How to extract useful info from databases


web-based-databaseMike Owen thinks you may know more about your customers than you realise and has some useful tips on how to make databases work for you.

For anybody who has tried to complete a crossword in the last 15 years ‘data’ is the answer to the clue ‘information stored on a computer’. Nowadays it’s a little bit more. Several years ago when I sold a company, the database was considered to be 12 percent of the value of that company. But ask yourself, do you take your data seriously enough?

Taking data seriously

Most business owners will nod and, when questioned, bluster about their system fulfilling this function. They are right and wrong. While systems do provide data tables, rarely are they in a useable format or contain the right information that can be used for business development purposes.

Look at a database in two ways: From an accountants perspective it stores information about what your company has done – sales invoice information, parts purchasing history and VAT; even this is often exported to an external accounting package such as Sage. It is historic information and while it can be used to send various reminders or to look up some sales history its true practicality starts to wane.

This is not the place to get too involved with how databases work, but it may be more appropriate to look at what they can be used for. A new buzz phrase has started to circulate within the service sector – Customer Relationship Management (CRM), basically a system that controls how a business interfaces with its customer. At the heart of CRM is a database that drives the business to keep in contact.

A CRM database has to be more versatile than a traditional invoicing system. While system suppliers will talk about data integrity – if the tables become corrupted the entire system could collapse – for CRM purposes there is a real need to be able to manipulate the information.

We can ask databases questions by using queries. You can ask a database of many thousands of customers for a list of those who buy filtration or a complex query is when you refine that list by asking for the information to match several criteria; those who buy Ford and Vauxhall filtration but not VW.

No database will allow you to ask questions about information that it does not contain and the versatility of a CRM database is in its ability to be adapted, have fields added and, in certain circumstances, new tables created and linked using dynamic links.

In any relationship you look for information that can make that person feel special; partner’s name, sporting interests, significant anniversaries such as birthdays and when their financial year ends – indeed, just about anything that can be used as a conversation starter. If you look at the six key factors in persuasion science, the factor of liking – starting a conversation with interest, increases the likelihood of doing business by nearly 40 percent and the value of that business by 18 percent. Harvesting information, storing it in a CRM database and then using it to bump-start a conversation works wonders.

Does this cost lots of money? No, most of you have all you need within Microsoft Office where in the professional version, you have a database package called Microsoft Access.

For those of you who want the next level in CRM there is an add-on to Microsoft Outlook called Business Contact Manager from which you could run a major customer facing business.

Should you just wish to dip your toe into being a little more dynamic with your customers try using a perpetual diary. Quite simply it is a diary that continues indefinitely into the future. Microsoft Outlook has a built-in calendar that fits this description exactly.

You can make repeating events, reminders for next year, rather than having to wait for a new diary to be available, produce ‘things to do this week’ reports and it comes loaded with features should you wish to use them.

A simple set-up

You have just called on a new business and have gathered some basic information; you create a ‘Business contact’ in Microsoft Outlook. The owner tells you that they buy their anti-freeze early, in June before he takes his family away on holiday, but he always looks for deals. You can now make an entry in Outlook calendar at the end of May. When the reminder pops up and you contact the customer and start the conversation with ‘You must be looking forward to your holiday…’ then you’ve just entered the world of CRM.

I have often stated in these pages that when you are selling you must keep control of the next action, and CRM is a high-brow way of suggesting that this is what you do and this is how you do it. As a salesman there is nothing more frustrating than being just-too-late to get that sale.

A great friend and mentor always kept his ‘black-book’ and was never afraid of tempting customers before they even knew they had a need. Pro-active selling always beats waiting for the phone to ring.

Databases are about taking ownership of your customer’s requirements. They allow you to do such things as mail-merge to letter, to email and even SMS. The most expensive bit is often learning how to use the systems. Using these systems does not create spam it creates individual targeted communication and that is the relationship part of the system, you don’t communicate ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, your communication is now ‘Dear Bill’, we are aware that you buy some filtration from us but in order to fulfil your VW requirements we have refocused our offer on quality and price…’ You appear to know your customer, their history and you are interested in them; a personal service.

If you asked why a database should have such an exalted value, its simple, it is where dynamic people go to develop business.

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