There is no shortage of information or data in today’s world, but harnessing and properly using that data is an art. A previous blog addressed the topic of “How to Reach Your Customers – Are eBlasts Right for You?” and laid the groundwork for email marketing. But a vital – and maybe even first – step in reaching your customers and prospects is actually knowing who they are and how to reach them. (And just like that, the customer database rose to the top of the to-do list!)
You likely already know who your current customers are if you invoice them for any product or service, they register as a buyer at a sale or you are able to obtain contact information at the point of sale. If you are not already storing that contact information in some manner, start immediately! Even if you only store the information in your accounting program or a spreadsheet, it’s a start and can be expanded on at any time.
Buying Potential Customer Lists
Knowing exactly who your potential customers are and how to contact them is another story. You can buy or rent a potential customer list, but make sure you are working with a reputable list service. Do your research, check their reviews, ask for a sample list before putting out any money, check their guarantee, etc., and don’t buy without assurances that you are getting what you pay for. They also offer a variety of information beyond simple contact details, so be sure to factor that into your decision and get as much valuable data as your budget allows.
Most purchased lists are either for a single- or limited-time use, depending on purchase price. Lists for unlimited use are more costly but, if the list is clean and full of legitimate prospects, it may be worth the price. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for deals, special offers or guarantees, and get more than is initially offered.
Creating Potential Customer Lists
The other option is to create and own your potential customer list. Owning your data is a huge advantage over renting or even buying the contacts, but it can be a long and involved process. Think of it like building a house vs. renting or even buying. It’s difficult at times, but all worth it for the long-term investment and the knowledge that you have the home you want under your terms for all time.
Creating your own list takes a lot of personal leg work to “capture” data and information on people who visit your website, follow you on social media, call your business, talk to you at meetings, visit your booth at a trade show or register as a buyer but never buy anything (yet!). Every one of these touchpoints are great opportunities to build your list – so don’t overlook them. You may only get contact info from one in every 10 you ask, but if you never ask, you’ll get zero every time.
In reality, and depending on your resources, goals and objectives, you may be best served by building a potential customer database with a combination of purchased lists and organically created lists. In either case, you need to determine what information you want to capture.
At the very least, collect and store first and last name; title; company, business or ranch name; complete mailing address; compete physical address; phone numbers and types; email address; and website URL. Additional information worth collecting is dependent upon your business and what you are selling or offering, and what customer information will allow you to better serve them.
It is also very important that you determine the best way to store your customer contact information. Spreadsheets are a great start and allow the data to be used for a variety of limited purposes, including sorts, regular mailings and eblasts. However, their use is limited beyond that and requires the user to manually maintain them for all uses.
For more robust usage, you can use one of many available customer relationship management (CRM) programs. With those, you can use your list for more than simple mailing and emailing. CRM programs vary greatly in sophistication, price, functionality, automation and ease of use, but can really open the door to possibilities. Keep in mind that their main function is to conduct outbound marketing (sending emails to customers) but have evolved into more sophisticated systems that track responses from those on your list so that you can cater future communications to them.
Building and Maintaining Your List
Once you have your customer list created and stored, the next step is to maintain this list so that it can be used to great success. Be prepared to make continual updates to the list so that names are spelled correctly, all contact information is correct and current, and notes are included so that you can reference important information on a potential customer when needed. These are all “housekeeping” duties that take time, so be prepared to dedicate that time – it will pay off!
It is also very important to keep track of the contact wishes and preferences of those on your list. Privacy laws dictate that you can send general eblast emails as long as you clearly identify who you are and allow the recipient to opt-out of receiving further emails from you. However, the laws are changing all the time, so make sure you are aware of current rules when you use your list. If a person asks to be removed from your list and they are not, your domain/email can be flagged as spam and then all your emails will be undeliverable. No one wants to go to all the effort to create a list that is useless because you’ve been flagged as a spammer rather than a legitimate business.
A good, clean and accurate list allows you to reach out to potential and current customers with important communications. Bottom line – put lots of thought into your list creation, usage and maintenance so that you get the most from your efforts.
If you need help with customer lists or working in a CRM – or simply don’t have the time to tackle it on your own, BluePrint Media is a great resource to help with this. Learn about what our outbound marketing strategies can do to reach your customers here.
Lisa has been involved in agriculture, communications, non-profits and publishing her entire life. Raised on a commercial and seedstock cattle operation in northern Arizona, she came to Colorado for college and never left, raising her family there. Her diverse experiences lead to capabilities in management, communications, design, administration and marketing. Learn more about Lisa.