Beginner's guide to creating an actionable customer database

Customer databases are the backbone of conversion and retention, giving you information that lets you tailor marketing efforts and programs to your actual customer base. The result? Reduced costs, increased effectiveness, and keeping customers engaged with your brand. These databases are important for service as well as product focused businesses, and useful if you’re a sole proprietor or have 20+ employees.

But where do you start?

What kind of software?

Excel works beautifully for creating databases, provided you know how to properly format it so you can comb through and add in information quickly. There are templates online that give you a good head start, and you can also hire a freelancer to set up the workbook or task the job to an employee who knows the software well. There are also customer database software packages available that are more targeted than the do all, be all Excel, and if you’re using customer relationship management software, it’s likely already built in to your program.

Decide what to track

The information you track in your database is just as important as who you add to it, and it’s imperative that you tailor what you track to your business and goals. Common headings outside of name, address, phone number, and email include:

  • Business type
  • Contact information for each employee in the business
  • Lifetime dollar volume
  • Year to date dollar volume
  • Products or services provided
  • Personal notes regarding family/preferences/hobbies/birthdays
  • People on your team who’ve worked with the customer

Build it organically

Your database is only as valuable as the quality of the information included. Can you purchase a huge list of emails? Yes, but that method won’t get you very far. Instead, take an ‘opt in’ approach to begin generating the list, and make sure the process is easy to navigate. Make signup forms visible on every page of your site and ensure the form doesn’t take more than a few minutes to fill out. Include a preference section for new signups and current signups so consumers have the option to decide how and when they want to receive contact.

Reward customers for signing up

So, how do you get people to actually give you their contact information willingly? Give them a little something back. Most businesses use the ‘sign up to be notified of deals and sales’ method, which is simple and doesn’t require a huge investment in content marketing on your end. But go further – host competitions on social media, with one of the requirements being signing up, give a discount for providing their email address at checkout, and provide a contact sheet when you’re working events like trade shows, local festivals, or exhibitions. Of course, tacking on a newsletter, or creating one eBook that you send to the customer for free after signup, are also enticing. When you’re running a service focused business, you’ll have a lot of this information upfront; from there, to track things like sales and projects worked on and add them to your database regularly.

Your list will grow and evolve over time; as it does, make sure you’re keeping it clean and updated. Regularly check for spelling errors and typos, delete email addresses when you get a hard bounce, check that contact information is still valid, and make it easy for customers to unsubscribe or remove their information if they want to. Doing so lets you focus on engaged customers, and they’re the ones that bump up your bottom line.


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