Manage your customer database

Developing your customer database


To get your marketing database working for you, it should include details of prospective as well as existing customers. People who enquire about your company should be included and 'flagged' for approach in the future.

Only a percentage of the general population will buy your products or use your services so it's important you target the right people. If you focus your marketing on them, your efforts will be more successful. Aim too widely with your marketing and you risk spreading your resources too thinly. See segmenting you email marketing lists

Not all customers have the same needs. It makes sense to build up a profile of your customers and group them according to their different requirements. This will give you a good idea of how likely they are to purchase what you are offering.

Build your database

There are a number of ways you can find new prospective customers to grow your database, here are a few examples:

  • Networking - When you meet a potential customer at a trade show or event, exchange business cards or contact information. You can then add their details to your database if you tell them who you are and how you plan to use their details for marketing purposes and they consent.
  • Offer incentives - collect contact information at events or online by offering something in exchange for a business card or registration. This could be entry to a competition, a discount voucher or exclusive online content.
  • Customer referrals - ask your current customers to refer a friend or business contact that might be interested in your product or services. You could offer an incentive such as a discount for this.
  • Optimise your website - make sure that your website is optimised to collect sales leads with strong calls-to-action to sign up.
  • Record enquiries - if a potential customer calls or emails your business with an enquiry, be sure to log their details.

No matter how you gather contact details, you must ensure you comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 by acting fairly and lawfully whenever and however you collect personal data. In particular, you must get consent before you send someone marketing messages. To be valid, consent must be knowingly and freely given, clear and specific affirmative action.  See consent under GDPR.

Buying a database

Having established a customer profile, you could then consider looking for additional prospects by buying in a tailored database or list. Bear in mind that there are rules about buying email databases. It is only usually possible to buy and sell personal information held in a database if the people concerned have consented that their information can be passed on. Under the GDPR, you must keep records to demonstrate what the individual has consented to, including what they were told, and when and how they consented. If you buy personal data from another organisation, you must provide people with your own transparency information detailing anything that they haven't already been told.

For a fee, you could become a member of the Direct Marketing Association, where you can find a registered direct marketing agency and promote your business by being listed in their directories.

You can specify exactly what type of person or organisation you want on your list, in terms of the:

  • size and type of the organisation - if you are selling to businesses
  • age, gender, income or lifestyle - if you are selling to individual customers

Lists are usually offered for:

  • rent - one-off use only
  • sale - providing unlimited usage

If the list is rented, most organisations forbid you from adding the names on the list to your database, except when you have received a response to your approach.

You should therefore consider giving an attractive incentive, such as a generous offer to encourage your prospective customer to respond.