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5 steps to get a handle on your customer database

Dec 17, 2010 12:00 AM

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How many customer e-mail addresses do you have in your database? Where do you keep your customer data such as e-mail, phone and mailing address? How do you keep your customer database clean so you can market effectively to your clients? Printers are in the business of helping their clients market more effectively, but it is amazing how many printers I work with lack a good grasp of their customer database. It is time to manage your database, to market effectively. You need to do better if you are going to survive and connect with your customers in an efficient and effective manner, or if you are going to position yourself as a marketing service provider or expert in marketing communications. It is time to make this a priority.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with five printers in a peer group. Basically they get together every six months to help each other with strategic planning. The group decided to survey customers to find out how they were doing, benchmark performance with each other and probe into several marketing areas. The goal was to use the data as they plan for 2011. Online surveying is a great way to get customer e-mail databases. It is shocking how many printers still don’t put a priority on managing e-mail addresses, but actively manage phone numbers and mailing addresses. I know our phones don’t ring like they used to, but e-mail volume has more than made up for that. We all get a continuous flow of e-mails from clients and prospects. Welcome to the Internet Age. The basic requirement to any e-marketing or e-surveying process or project is to export your customer database out of your print MIS system such as EFI Printsmith, ePace, EPMS, PrintLeader, Printer’s Plan, Printer’s Plus, Hagan, Logic, Avanti, PSI, etc. Enter the buyer’s e-mail address into the system when entering an order. It is amazing how many printers don’t do this, instead burying customers’ e-mail addresses in Outlook, ACT! or some other disconnected system. How do you leverage the customer information if the data is fragmented and on a laptop or in an individual’s e-mail address book? You must have a central place, and it all begins with order entry. Granted, there are other decision makers you want to track, but many times, people responsible for the next order are included when entering the order. Now, back to the peer group project. When starting this project, all the printers felt it would be easy to get their customer list. After four weeks of hard work they finally got their lists together. It was painful and a wakeup call for some of these printers. Printer 1 got the list to us right away, and it was very clean as they already had a well greased process with discipline. Printer 5 has some work to do. The great thing about e-mailing surveys is you get feedback on the undelivered e-mails and don’t need to wait for the Post Office to send you the report and undelivered pieces. It is immediate and you also learn why the e-mail was not delivered so you can correct it or investigate. The best-run printers are getting under 10%, and 5% is stellar. How do they do this? Here are five tips:1. Start at order entry. All the MIS systems have a field for the buyer’s e-mail address. Most printers are not entering anything into this field because, with most systems, the team doesn’t e-mail out of the system as with Outlook. There appears to be no reason to enter buyer information. Educate your team on why e-mails must be entered with orders. Over a 30-day period you will be thrilled at how many e-mails you will have. Then start using the information. Start now.2. Educate your team on the value of entering buyer e-mail addresses into the system. Give them the big picture. Most are entering the Accounts Payable people, and this is important. The buyer’s e-mail address is just as critical. The best way to help sales teams be more effective and efficient is to leverage e-mail to send marketing messages and complement what they are doing face-to-face or over the phone. You must work as a team and have corporate messaging going out to help sales people. They can’t be everywhere, all the time, but a focused e-mail campaign or project feedback survey can really help them retain customers and expand opportunities. Have a team meeting. 3. Assign someone to keep the database clean. E-mail management is different than phone or mailing address management. Most people have multiple e-mail addresses, move around a lot and change e-mails. E-surveying and e-marketing services inform you if someone is not getting e-mail. You need to know this and call the customer to find out what is happening, or delete them from the system. Someone needs to police this and manage a process to keep on top of it. Set 10% as your goal for bad e-mail addresses and you will be in good shape. 5% would be even better. 4. Have an e-mail management and e-communication strategy with discipline. Engage everyone in your business about the strategic importance of managing e-mails in one central place. I prefer the MIS system, as that is where the orders are flowing, and I know it is easier to earn more business from existing customers than to chase prospects. There are two different messages going out depending on whether they are prospects or customers. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems sometimes integrate with the MIS, but if they don’t, set up a system to de-dupe or filter out customers so you don’t overcommunicate. 5. Make it a priority. Too often I hear that this is something we are going to get to, but then it never happens or it takes over a year to get done. Starting with order entry can quickly get data flowing into a system so you can leverage it in 30 days. It should not be a major project, but set up baby steps to get there over time. Start small. Maybe for the first month you have 30 e-mails in the system. Then you can promote something to those contacts, know they are good e-mails and know they are customers. Don’t procrastinate. Good luck with your customer base hygiene efforts as you push ahead in 2011.

Michael Casey is president and founder of Survey Advantage (, a strategic partner with several printer associations and franchises. Through partnership with MIS providers, Survey Advantage offers automated customer survey services.