Managing Your Data and Keeping a Useful Database
Updated: Jul 24
Many years ago, I began my marketing career by being given the opportunity to work on a short term contract in a marketing department, helping to tidy up their CRM. I was very eager to work in marketing and I snapped up the chance with both hands. It might have been boring, repetitive work, but it got me on the ladder to my career, and it set me up in a way that I’m now truly grateful for.
From day one I learnt how hugely important data is to any business. But if you don’t look after it correctly then it can cause you all sorts of issues. Putting legislation like GDPR aside, not having a decent database means reporting becomes extremely difficult, getting information becomes virtually impossible and basic tasks like mailing can become laborious at best. You also run the risk of looking quite unprofessional.
In that first job I had, I was simply there to tidy up errors, merge duplicate records and ensure consistency throughout the system. It can be terribly tedious typing in data – I remember it well - but by taking the time to do it correctly, you save yourself a vast amount of time moving forward. Here are some basic tips that could make life a lot easier for you.
1. Start with a specification
Before you build a database, whether it’s because you’re starting completely from scratch or you want to improve what you’ve already got, spec it out first. Don’t look at the database and see what standard fields exist and then fudge your data to match. Instead decide on what data you want to store, how you’re going to use that data, what reporting you might want to do and who will be using the information. By making the database work for you, rather than you working for the database, you’ll immediately begin with a more useful tool. This might seem obvious, but after working with CRM systems for nearly 20 years, I know this is an often overlooked task.
If you properly spec out your system then your database stops becoming just a place to add in contact details and starts to become a useful tool that can help you proactively run your business.
2. Populate fields accurately
Don’t be lazy when you type things in. You might think it doesn’t matter as no one else is going to see that you’ve put lower case letters at the start of every name, and Birmingham is spelt incorrectly. But if you later want to use that data in a mail merge then you either have to run the risk of looking incredibly unprofessional, or you have to tidy up the data as you go along – effectively then doing the job twice. Also, GDPR allows for anyone, at any time, to request to see the data you have on them. Wouldn’t you want it to look well-kept when you send it on to them?
In addition, make sure you do simple things like put the city in the city field, the postcode in the postcode field and add in where you heard about the company from, and so on. It’s about future proofing what you’re doing. At some point you might need that data and having to correct mistakes is far more time consuming than adding it in correctly in the first place. Also, if you have it right you can begin to use it more practically. Like do searches on all the companies in a certain location, or find out trends in your data. It might sound cheesy, but knowledge really is power.
It can be very easy in any database to add in a company or person twice. Even if you think you’ve checked if they’re already there, a small typo or a variation in someone’s name can end up with them being added in more than once. You then run the risk of contacting them more than once in a mailing. Therefore, if you’re using your database as a marketing contact list, make sure that at least every six months you go through and de-duplicate it. The simplest way to do this is in a spreadsheet, using a formula to spot duplicate entries.
4. Double checking
Double checking the accuracy of what you’ve put in can be the difference between winning and losing business. My name is Lindsay. There are loads of ways to spell that name. I can understand when I’ve phoned someone up and they subsequently write to me that they might spell my name wrong. What I can’t understand is when I give someone my email address - with my name spelt out fully and accurately - that they then address the email as Dear Lynsey. Or worse, Dear Laura or Dear Leslie. I’ve seen it all.
Such tiny little details really do matter. We can all make mistakes, but sometimes taking a minute longer to double check the accuracy can set you apart from other businesses. It makes you look like you really care. Checking that the first name matches the email address can be a small but incredibly worthwhile task.
In marketing, perception is everything. You could have the best product in the world, but if your audience doesn’t believe it then they’ll never buy from you. In such a competitive environment, take every opportunity you can get to look your best. A streamlined, well maintained database can trickle down quite easily to boosting how you manage your clients – both prospective and existing. Trust me, I’ve seen it multiple times. So next time you’re swiftly updating your database, take two minutes longer to make sure it’s absolutely right. The knock on effect down the line could be huge.