An E-Mail-Enriched House File Is Your Competitive Advantage

The Internet has had a major effect on the business sector. Specifically, it has leveled the playing field to allow smaller firms to readily compete with larger corporations. Whether you are the larger, established firm or the up-and-coming competitor, a business must strive to acquire and maintain a competitive advantage at all times.

The savvy marketer knows that it's information that yields this advantage; and as a marketer, this information is embodied in a company's house file.

Second nature to some and a revelation to others, a clean, updated and functional house file is one of the most critical components for maximizing your overall sales and marketing efforts. This importance is further emphasized by the direct and almost immediate communication capabilities we can have with customers and prospects via e-mail. E-mail is, in essence, a marketer's dream for cost-effective, database-driven communication activities with customers and prospects.

So let's get back to basics with regards to the house file. An effective house file is a data warehouse that can drive the marketing process via information. Specifically, a structured house file will facilitate the development, testing, implementation, measurement and refinement of customized marketing programs.

As part of the information-gathering process, you need to take a step back and view the big picture of the information entry points at your organization. These information portals will include inbound calls and inbound mail, as well as your corporate Web presence. Information warehousing could be further enhanced with the sometimes hidden data acquired from your customer support group, individual contact management databases, as well as transactional information contained in your back-end fulfillment system.

A general rule: The more information you know about your customers and prospects, the better your house file is as a strategic marketing tool. So what should you be capturing besides the basic name and address data? There are a few highlights that can yield your organization many long-term benefits in the bigger picture of database-driven marketing.

The date is an important component to the house file. You should retain the date that the customer was originally captured and the last date of purchase, allowing the analysis of lag time between acquisition and actual sales. Product codes and version numbers, stored in a relational format, provide you with the information needed for performing both upgrade and product cross-sell efforts.

A source code, indicating where the name came from, also is important for performing back-end analysis on the effectiveness of your advertising and marketing efforts. A promotion code also is useful for tracking the various promotional programs that you have instituted such as competitive upgrade programs, trade show pricing and various direct mail offers.

E-mail addresses captured at the individual name level is an absolutely critical component to your house file. The e-mail data will allow you to implement a fast and efficient continuity program with customers, while establishing relationships with your prospects.

However, if you are going to collect e-mail data, do the right thing up front. Go ahead and allow individuals to opt in to receive information from your own organization. While this is considered by some to be a more conservative approach with regards to data native to your own house file, in my opinion it's the safest way to handle e-mail data and respect the privacy of your customers and prospects.

At a later date, you should provide the individuals who opted in to receive information from your company with the option to receive e-mail-based offers from third-party organizations. Those who opt in at this level will be the basis for a future e-mail rental program, which will add ancillary revenue to your organization. Overall, the procedural tightening of the e-mail data will ensure that future communications will be sent only to those individuals who are interested in receiving your information and offers.

As a direct marketer, you should collect and use data in a responsible manner, as it is one of the most important factors for keeping your database marketing efforts ahead of the rest.

Roy Schwedelson is CEO of Worldata Inc., Boca Raton, FL. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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