Though it's meant to reconnect us with friends and family, some of us agonize over the annual tradition of holiday greeting cards. Before we can spread a little cheer, share children's photos and update family health and happenings, we're faced with updating our holiday card list — a time consuming yet valuable effort.
If your company is anything like Calypso, you also spend time worrying about the value of your customer mailing list. Will a holiday card from our company result in unbridled cheer, the circular file, a cashier's check for late receivables? More important, you wonder if the list is robust enough for a new year of productive sales and relationship building. Is it current and complete? Do we have the right names, titles, and offices? Is this company even still in business?
These clerical "cleanings" are important, but what can really boost the efficacy of a customer database is more strategic thinking about who really belongs there. What are you selling and who should care? What's happening in the world that might increase interest by new customers for your products or services? How can you leverage news about local or regional trends to build a more targeted and effective database?
If you delivered any coal this Christmas (not the stocking variety) maybe Bill Gates and Warren Buffett should have been be included. (The billionaires traveled in a fleet of jets to Gillette, Wyoming last month to tour Arch Coal's Black Thunder Mine, driving the company's stock up 30 percent in three weeks). Neither man was on Calypso's list this year, but with our public relations work for coal power plants, who knows about 2011?
If kids' electronics better fit your customer profile, Nielsen reports that 31 percent of U.S. children ages 6 to 12 want an iPad over any other electronic device this year, followed by a computer (29 percent), and iPod touch (29 percent). And if you're a local restaurateur you may want to know that food pundits have promised increased popularity in 2011 for pie, street food, and meatballs. Hospitality destinations will be interested in a recent Deloitte study that predicts corporate travel will rise next year, with high-speed Internet and free parking becoming the key attractions for business people.
We all get the point. A little regular research can help refine a customer database with news that leads to more relevant segmenting and more effective content for mailings — news that's readily available online, especially in end-of-year reviews and popular forecasts for consumer trends, political shifts, and industry change. It's a busy time for all those people who tell us how we lived our lives this past year, and what we can expect for the next 12 months. So while we're already thinking about, and following, our own holiday lists, the season can be a perfect time to prepare our businesses for 2011.
Some obvious general guidelines for list management include:
- Start, build, and keep your file clean; use reliable sources for contacts and check the list often to ensure it's accurate.
- Dedicate one person in your company or organization to be responsible for additions, revisions, and deletions to the database, but ensure that you have a system for everyone to contribute information.
- In some cases, you'll need to create security levels within your firm for different levels of database use. In addition, you may want to put in place a written policy defining how you protect customer confidentiality.
- Manage the content, organizing names by relevant segments, geography, age group, and other important demographic criteria.
- You can also manage content by more subjective measures, such as customer loyalty, longevity, responsiveness, and spending habits.
- Take the time to remove dead soldiers — weeding out unresponsive names, lost subscribers, or duplicate contacts; your response rates will improve and outreach time and costs will decline.
- Establish a system to track information for your contacts, but first understand how the list will be used for different colleagues and types of outreach; sales, marketing, fundraising, and management co-workers all have different information needs.
- Technology can be your friend. In the age of smartphones and web service Web sites you can enlist a variety of new technologies to make growing, editing, and automating your list even easier for the entire company.
- You can even consider skipping the traditional business card exchange altogether with an application like Bump that shares contact information from device to device.
- Also be sure to leverage your Web site. Adding an e-mail sign up contact form is another easy way to grow your list of contacts.
- Finally, don't forget to set up a process for backup and recovery of your database — a valuable investment of your company's human and financial resources.
Building, editing, and reformulating a customer database is hard work that needs careful thought, vigilance, and constant attention. It may not be on your holiday schedule but it should definitely become part of your regular business calendar.
This article originally appeared as an installment of Calypso’s regular column in the Portsmouth Herald Business Monday section. It can also be viewed on Seacoast Online.