What if I told you the only way you could grow your business in the next 12 months was from your existing pool of clients, customers, members or patients?

That’s the question I asked from the stage this month. It made my audiences pause, ponder and even whine a little bit. So I waved the magic wand again and said it would be OK to tap into their database of past/inactive clients as well as prospects who had somehow found their way onto a list. From their expressions, some were pleased by the expanded scope, but by no means was it a smiling majority.

So let’s get out of third-person and I’ll ask you, dear reader, an edited version of the same question I posed in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and California:

If the only way you could grow your business in the next 12 months were from your existing database of contacts, what would you do? How would you start?

How about starting with the obvious answer? With the database itself? Do you have one?

Don’t laugh.

You should have seen all the guilty expressions in each audience. You would have heard their confessions—from businesses of all sizes—as to how pitiful their databases are. Many did not even use the D-word. Their so-called “database” consisted of any combination of business card piles (not files), Outlook, Contacts, and/or Excel spreadsheets.

Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, I also heard from solo-entrepreneurs and large enterprises who can query their databases and identify the names of people who opened a specific email, clicked this (not that) and were born on a Saturday. And that’s just for starters. I’m sure they could filter the list by male or female, prospect or client, near or far, already a client or still lurking around the free download section.

For now, let’s agree that something is better than nothing, and that size does not matter. In fact, whether you’re a small business or a big business, I’d rather see you focus on the quality of the names in your database than on the number of names. Start with what you have, and focus on learning and capturing all you can about each person. Then, use what you know to improve your marketing and sales communication.

 Database marketing is not “spray and pray.” It’s about segmentation and crafting specific messages based on key attributes of the segment you want to reach. Egad. Did I just write that hifalutin sentence?

Terri’s 4 T’s of Database Marketing

Simply stated, here are the four cornerstones of database marketing: Tag, Target, Tailor, Tie.

Tag your tribe. What do you need to know about each person that will help you get more of what you want? Think of it as tagging the record so that you can go back and search for specific tags or combinations of them. You won’t be able to capture all the tags in one encounter, but you do want your database to have a place for them.

So, addressing the question I asked at the beginning, you might want to start by creating tags, categories, groups, labels, or whatever your database marketing system calls them for your existing client/customer/member/patient base.

I also have tags for industries and interests, such as AEC, healthcare, small business, financial services, associations, small business, freelancers and fan club. (The latter are people who know me, my work and my rants, and they still want to hear and read it regardless of topic.) I also have a tag that helps me distinguish someone who has hired me to speak (Client) from someone who has heard me speak (Audience).

The super savvy solopreneur in my audience last week told me that he slices his existing online customer base three ways based on life cycle stage:

  • New stage is for customers who recently made their first purchase. They’re still checking the business out, so there’s not a lot of trust yet, which makes them sensitive to the overall experience of working and buying from him and his site.
  • Active customers are the ones who are frequent visitors to his site beyond the time he chose to define them as “new.” They might be working with him 1:1, buying other things, taking advantage of downloads, participating in various forms of consulting or education.
  • Churn stage is his word for customers who have been inactive for a defined period of time. He even two different ways of tagging his inactive “Churn” customers. The one-off buyers who never returned, and those who were more active for a longer period of time and then disappeared.

The point here is to create tags that are meaningful to you so that you are better equipped for the second of Terri’s T’s for database marketing.

Target your audience. Even with a few broad categories you will be able to market to your customer base more effectively than you would if you sent the same message to everyone.

Tailor your message. Based on the first two cornerstones, you can now fine-tune your message to connect to your audience’s world with precision. This blog is a great example—of what NOT to do.

I confess. I wrote this blog post first as one of my monthly newsletter’s articles. And I sent it, via email,  to one, and only one of my many tags, the “Newsletter List” tag. Thousands of subscribers received identical messages. The incriminating clue is still up there in the very first sentence in which I wrote, “…clients, customers, members or patients.”

If I were following my own advice, I would have created at least four different versions of the newsletter. For instance, for my AEC subscribers I would have simply used the word “clients.” That’s the word they use. Banks, on the other hand, have customers, but don’t you dare refer to a credit union’s “customer.” Credit unions (and associations) have members. Healthcare providers and practices have patients, clean and simple.

Hence, my newsletter serves as a teaching moment for Terri’s third T of database marketing.

Create powerful Ties. That’s the fourth T and the ultimate outcome when you do as I say, not as I just did. When you effectively Tag, Target and Tailor your database marketing, you will build better ties. Better ties mean more response, referrals and revenue. And deeper relationships.

Get started, and pace yourself. Effective database marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It took Mr. Database Marketing Pants from my recent audience several years before he dove into cluster analysis models for RFM (recency, frequency, monetary).

What step can you take in the next three days to grow your business from your existing database? 30 days? 90 days? Share your comments here.

After all, in the world of database marketing, there is no such thing as junk mail. Only irrelevant mail.

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