8 Steps to Build a Powerful Customer Database

9 min read
Node tools in a marketing automation platform showing the lead management process in a campaign.

When planning omnichannel campaigns and building sophisticated automation paths, do you think about the quality of your customer database? With complete, up-to-date information about your customers, you are able to communicate and build relationships with them. Read on to find out how to build a customer database that delivers desired results.

Databases today

It is now a big challenge to collect data in such a way as to reduce the risk of getting false or misleading results – the numbers below show that the scale of the problem is larger than marketers could imagine.

Salelifter performed an analysis of almost 100,000 contact forms to check for the most common mistakes made while completing them. The results of the study revealed that almost a third of them contained an error.

Twenty-five percent of users didn’t provide their first and last name, often using the character of a movie, a fairy tale, or a celebrity, treating the name as a pseudonym or login rather than the actual data that could be verified. Errors also appeared in the postcode (45%), address (17%), and phone (13% – wrong submission, number of digits, prefix, or bad number). On average, every tenth email address turned out to be wrong. In addition to false data, users made lexical errors and added improper aliases or non-existent domains.

The poor quality of email databases translates into huge losses caused by ineffective marketing campaigns. According to the IT Business Edge report, large businesses in the US spend an average of nearly $200,000 on direct mailing, which does not return the desired results. TDQI noted that the annual loss of US-based companies resulting from defective data is estimated at $611 billion. However, despite these statistics, enterprise spending is still primarily focused on protecting against external attacks rather than building quality customer databases.

The essentials of a good customer database

Now that you know the consequences of using incomplete or false data, you may wonder: what is a good customer database?

First of all, the more complete, the better. No matter how much information you need from your customers – email, name, phone number, address, or anything else – make sure they are willing to share. You’ll find tips on choosing the right information and collecting them effectively in the next parts of this article.

It’s also important that the information be accurate, which is very much influenced by the source of the data. Obviously, given data protection laws, they must be obtained with the user’s consent but verifying such information is always problematic. Outdated or incorrect data causes the messages to fall into a vacuum and even get you labeled as a sender of spam.

There is no perfect solution for collecting good quality data but there are many possibilities to minimize this problem. Here are the eight steps to prepare optimal conditions for building a credible customer database.

Step one – a clear form

It’s a good idea to start by verifying the fields in the form. For fields like postal code, it’s easy. Just determine that it is XX-XXX, where every X must be a digit. Setting a condition for the field for cell phone numbers will be more tricky, though. When users come from different markets that use different formats, they may not fit the template you create. To avoid such situations in all sorts of form fields, you can follow these simple tips:

  • First name. Accept all letters and special characters used in different languages. Again, remember that some markets may use non-standard formats.
  • Last name. Apart from letters and special characters, allow for spaces and apostrophes for certain names (O’Reilly, etc.). For both first and last names, allow for up to 30 characters.
  • Email. Don’t assume that everyone has a “normal” email address that requires just letters, a period and @. Special characters are not uncommon now and Google even allows spaces and pluses in Gmail addresses. And did you know that usernames in email domains can be up to 64 characters long?
  • Telephone. There are lots of formats for different kinds of phone numbers around the world, some with as many as fifteen digits. On top of that, the country code prefix can require another five digits. Best to allow for up to twenty digits in your phone number field.
  • Password. Don’t limit the imagination of users. Accept letters, special characters – all of it. There are, however, signs like < and > that shouldn’t be used because they can cause HTML problems.

Also remember to provide a description of the form fields so that the user can submit the information you need. For example, in the number or email field, specify whether it should provide private or company data. In the latter case, additional verification and exclusion of the domain associated with popular mail accounts such as “@ gmail.com” may be used.

An online form with clear input fields as a best practice example when designing solutions for lead management.

Step two – email verification

The most important piece of information for your customer database is the email address. In many customer monitoring systems and CRMs, it is the identifier that says who you are dealing with. Without it, the rest of the data is irrelevant, because we will not be able to identify the contact.

That’s why it’s always worth using the two-step verification process. To download a document, subscribe to a newsletter, event, receive a coupon, etc. the user not only fills out the form but must click the activation link on his mail. This allows us to be sure that the address does, in fact, belong to the user.

Step three – offer something valuable

To have people share something of their own, you should offer something in return first – such an offer is called lead magnet. Depending on the features and purpose of your product, it can be free content, a discount, product demo or consultation.

Once you know what kind of lead magnet fits best, make sure users understand what they will get from you and why they will benefit from it. If this is a demo of the program – describe exactly how it works. If it’s an ebook, show several pages so they know what they’re getting in exchange for their information. Avoid creating a landing page that contains only a contact form without presenting specific information about the offer.

It’s always a good idea to show users what they will get after leaving an email address. If they get something other than expected, they will feel cheated and not willing to trust you again and share their data.

A pop-up of a 15% discount coupon in exchange for a user's email address as an example of a lead magnet strategy.

Step four – take it slow

It’s quite natural that you want your customer database to contain as many valuable data as possible. You may have an impression this requires many fields in your sign-up form, but your goal is to keep barriers low:

  • avoid asking for data that you can obtain some other way, e.g. by extracting them from other databases,
  • don’t require data that you will not use – it’s unlikely you will need such information as the client’s address if your product doesn’t need client locations,
  • ask questions as simply as possible – long custom filled forms often scare page visitors away.

The right approach to extract valuable data is the “foot in the door” method. This rule says that you will achieve more success by asking for one small thing at a time. Getting an email address is that “foot in the door” that allows you to ask for more later.

If you give the user valuable materials and access to promotions and unique offers, it increases your credibility. This means you have a better chance that the user will share more information in the future. Automating this process can help to get the most out of the relationship you build.

Step five – automation

The “foot in the door” method may be even more effective if fully automated, but it needs to be set up logically. It does not work to constantly harass someone at the beginning with an incentive to subscribe to a newsletter or join a database. Let’s allow the user first to know about the offer. If you want to encourage someone to subscribe to a newsletter, set up automation so that a notification will turn on when you open, say, the second article on the site.

Giving the client a little time increases the chance of signing up and adding up to your customer database.

Make sure you frame your message in the right terms. It’s about what they get, not you. Make it clear that signing up to your newsletter has concrete benefits like x, y and z.

Another method worth trying in automation is progressive profiling, the gradual acquisition of data gained through increased engagement. This can be done in a number of ways. You can, for example, offer more and different downloads, first by sending them to an email address, then asking for additional information before other downloads can be accessed. Materials can also be differentiated by offering discounts, coupons, ebooks, or invitations to events – with each one asking for something else from the user.

You may also play with intermediate profiling, which is gaining data in other ways, like asking subscribers to complete a quiz. This is what Teavana did to learn more about their customers and their preferences when it came to what kind of tea was best for them. Results from the quiz were used to adapt content for different customers.

An example of an online quiz to promote a brand and gain user preference information in a more interactive way.
Teavana’s creative way to collect relevant customer data

Step six – tell subscribers what the data is used for

One of the most common fear among people who lie on signup forms is that they will receive tons of unwanted calls and emails trying to sell them something. That’s why you need to make it clear why you ask for data and what you use it for. Stress that you:

  • Don’t share the data with anyone else,
  • Won’t send spam,
  • Will make it clear what you will send and how often.

If you have a wide range of products or services, give the user a choice about what products or areas they want to inquire about. You can also send surveys asking about how often users want to receive information.

Step seven – don’t duplicate!

Customers don’t like long forms so keep everything as brief as possible. We often encounter situations when you need to enter your password, email, or other information twice. This is irritating since the data is often hidden (in the case of passwords) and when a mistake is made, you have to start all over.

What are the alternatives? The simplest is that we do not ask for a password again, and instead of this make sure that there is a quick mechanism for generating a new password in the event of a mistake. If you need to re-ask for better verification, email it. Making characters in the password field visible will let the user type the password correctly in the first take.

Step eight – go mobile

Making sure the forms on your page are mobile-friendly isn’t just an option, it’s mandatory. The harder it is for mobile users to interact with your site, the less likely they are to complete the signup process. Since there’s an endless number of mobile devices on the market, make sure your site displays properly on screens of different resolutions. You can test it with a free tool, e.g. Am I Responsive?.

Wrapping up

The problem with building a good quality customer database is not only about getting data. The real challenge lies in collecting real data that allow creating accurately targeted campaigns. It is worth taking time to get to know techniques and strategies that will help to maximize your databases’ potential. Apart from the eight steps we’ve discussed, would you use any other tricks for obtaining quality data? Let us know in a comment, we’d love to hear from you!