Cover Your Bases

Putting The Info To Work

All the best data in the world won't help you unless you actively put your database to work for you. In addition to creating customer profiles and models, you can search your database for trends. Some off-the-shelf contact management programs have templates to assist you in predicting your customers' needs before they arise--and that means you'll be ready when they're likely to reorder a product or stock up for a seasonal need (See "Hot Disks").

Chachko suggests that gaining the customer's permission before reaching out can increase your effectiveness dramatically. Such "opt in" or permission marketing begins with asking customers about products and services they're interested in. By gaining permission to send customers more information about these products, they're more likely to be receptive to follow-up messages.

Those follow-ups can take many forms. In addition to mass mailings, which traditionally have low response levels, you can use your database for a variety of applications, including:

  • Sending specific e-mail notifications of new products, Web site updates or special offers;
  • Mailing customized price or information sheets;
  • Using the data to conduct phone outreach based on reorder trends for your customers, reminding them to reorder products before they run out of inventory or to schedule a service appointment that's coming due;
  • Creating a simple questionnaire on your Web site to help you ensure that products or services of interest to a customer are brought to his or her attention each time that customer logs on to the site;
  • And capturing a sales history to examine what sales offers have been most successful and repeating those promotions while eliminating or changing those that had little to no impact on purchases.

At the individual levels, database marketing can assist you and your salespeople in adding a personal touch to your outreach efforts--like sending that A-list customer tickets to see her favorite sports team play.

The applications of a strong database will become increasingly important as the Internet and electronic communication play larger roles in interacting with customers. Start capturing this critical information now so you'll be ahead of the competition when the great marketing opportunities of the future arise.

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the February 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Cover Your Bases.

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