Marketers spend so much time thinking MORE when it comes to their customer and prospect database. If a marketer isn’t bragging about the size of their customer database, they’re probably actively acquiring customer records so they can start bragging.

So much effort within e-mail and online marketing is focused around building a customer (or subscriber) list that the process of optimizing and enhancing that list is forgotten. No one would argue that while having a large customer list of eager buyers is a great marketing tool – having a more thoroughly built out customer list, even when overall list size is smaller, can be much more effective. What makes a list great is the ability to use it to deliver marketing messaging effectively to the right customers.

For example, the retail store owner wants to know where their customers are located and where to find more. How far are my customers traveling to shop with me? If I open a new store will they abandon my first store? Where should I advertise? Answering the “where are my customers from?” question becomes easier when you have more than anecdotal data to assist you in the decision making process. If the retail store isn’t collecting the data necessary to make those decisions the only option left is to guess or begin placing lots of phone calls to ask.

When you’re focused on managing your business-to-business database, full of leads and prospects collected from a number of sources including formal (website, CRM, order forms) and informal (business cards, fishbowls, contact lists), there are going to be similar issues with profiles that exist in various stages of “completeness.. Do you know the lead source for all prospects? Do all leads have complete contact information? Where do the gaps exist that can be filled in within the database? In reviewing your prospect or lead database consider the change that more complete profiles could have on your marketing campaign strategy and the impact those changes would make on your business.

Of course, the challenge is that when the marketer begins asking for that information, especially on the web, your conversion rate nosedives, and who really wants to lose all those customers or leads? Some tips to help guide you through or around that obstacle to build your customer profiles:

Stating The Obvious
It may sound silly, but most organizations have a tough time building out that single view of the customer and as a result, there are bits and pieces of profile data across separate databases throughout the organization that don't talk to one another. The easiest way to get started is to look at those and integrate. If your e-mail database or ESP isn't integrated with your order management system, CRM (hosted or internal) or other customer database. Stop! Go no further. Sit down and get that done.

For example, if a customer subscribes on your website using only their e-mail address and then places an order using the same e-mail address and their account information isn't tied together – you're missing out on what the customer is already giving you. Start there!

Have a Goal In Mind
Don't ask for everything you can think of because your marketing team sat around a table and came up with ideas. Narrow it down and focus on what's important. Look at upcoming marketing campaigns, recent results and upcoming projects. Launching a new retail store? You will want a list of customers who live nearby. Adding a new product line? Use profiles to figure out who have indicated some interest in the past.

Explain Why
Tell your subscribers why you're looking for them to build out their profile or complete additional information. Why will having that information be helpful to them? The customer is going to ask “What’s in it for me?” If you can't make a valid case for that ownership, then you haven't determined why you want it and if you don't know why – then don't ask. You can always use incentives to gather their data (sweepstakes, promotions or unique giveaways) but continue to focus on the purpose behind the data collection.

Reinforce Security
In the event that there have ever been security concerns or your forms are asking for sensitive information take that into account. Make sure copy includes language that addresses customer concerns regarding storage and usage of the data. On a technical side, use security seals from the larger vendors (McAfee, Verisign, etc.) to reinforce the data safety issue.

Make It Easy To Share
Don't ask the customer for any information that they won't have at hand. Even asking them for the e-mail address that they used for the transaction is a pain. If the customer is clicking through to your form from an e-mail or other link – help them out by prefilling their e-mail address or pass along a unique ID so that you know who they are. Remember – the minute you put up any kind of barrier to the process, the customer will hit it, stop completely and go back to their Facebook page.

Wrapping Up
When spending time investing in strategies to build your list make sure you also focus on optimizing the existing subscriber and customer database. Focus on simple metrics to see where there is room for improvement. If you have 100,000 records, how many have a phone number? How many have a first name or last name? What goals to you have? What would an improved percentage allow you to do differently than what you’re doing now?

Over time, as you begin to implement a profile building strategy, continue to measure and track those metrics to see how you’re doing.

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