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How to Clean Up Customer Data and Revive Your Company A three-hour database training session could transform your marketing team and boost your bottom line.

By Andrew Cohen Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


In this competitive era of personalized marketing, a marketing team's ability to communicate with a company's existing customers is only as good as the customer data they are able to work with.

Designing marketing campaigns, segmenting audiences, forecasting the impact of potential new features and sending appropriately timed customer emails can only be done when the product and marketing teams have a constant stream of actionable and up-to-date information about the audience being reached. It is therefore depressing how many companies' marketing teams lack access to such information.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Collecting Customer Data

Where is your customer data?

Through my work at TechStars and as the business metrics instructor at General Assembly, I have spoken with a surprising number of great companies whose marketing teams regularly suffer from a dearth of the customer information that they really need. "We have the data buried in our database," the story often goes, "but we'll have to ask the [expensive] tech guys to get us that data."

Simply seeking the web versus mobile activity of a specific user cohort could mean asking a valuable software engineer to spend time writing a custom database query, because automatic data plugins and customer relationship management (CRM) tools don't always cut it.

Structured query language (SQL) just isn't that hard.

Fortunately, we were able to solve this problem at Brainscape by realizing that writing database queries is actually not very hard. It turned out that learning to write basic SQL code was something that even our non-technical marketing team could accomplish in as little as a three-hour workshop, led by our chief technology officer.

Related: 4 Things Non-Tech Leaders Do Better Than the Cyber-Obsessed

Brainscape's database training session helped us to develop a much more efficient user-communication machine. Each product and marketing team member is now empowered to explore our own hypotheses without needing to bother a valuable engineer. With a MySQL terminal and a little bit of brain power, we can answer questions like:

  • Which subjects are Brainscape users studying the most enthusiastically?
  • Which age groups are creating the most content?
  • In which step of the new-user onboarding funnel are we losing teachers?
  • Who are the most prolific sharers this month?
  • Are female users as active as male users, and if so, in which cases?
  • And the list goes on ....

Hold a database training session.

You can likely think of similar data points that you would want to know at your own company. Rather than asking your engineers to get you that information, I strongly recommend that your company hold a database training session, where an engineer trains each marketing team member about the structure of your customer database and about the syntax with which database queries can be written.

Of course, your company's marketing team may already have access to much of the data they need, either in the form of a regular monthly report or in a nice user-facing CRM interface like Salesforce or But at the end of the day, nothing is as flexible as learning how to write good old-fashioned SQL code.

Whatever language your database is built in, I can guarantee that having a star engineer train the marketing team on writing customer database queries is one of the best investments your company can make. It's a major step in becoming a more metrics-driven business.

Related: The Complete Guide to Building a Metrics-Driven Company

Andrew Cohen

Founder & CEO, Brainscape; Instructor, TechStars and General Assembly

Andrew Cohen is the founder of Brainscape, a web and mobile education platform that helps people study more efficiently. Brainscape originally grew out of a personal project that Cohen created to help him improve his Spanish, while working in Panama for the World Bank. It later inspired him to seek a master's degree in instructional technology from Columbia University and transform his pet project into a fundable startup that can help people study any subject. Brainscape has since raised several million dollars from top venture capitalists.

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