Database Content and Management

How Micro-businesses can manage their database

Databases are vital for keeping customer and enquirer details in one place and to generate additional sales. But inappropriate content and inaccurate data can make the database worse than useless, it can actually hinder the micro-business.

Database Contents

The contents of an individual micro-business’s database will depend on their particular circumstances, but consider the following as a minimum:

      • Title
      • First name
      • Initials
      • Surname
      • Job title (for businesses)
      • Postal address, split into its different elements, i.e. house number or name, street name, area, town, county and postcode
      • Email address
      • Phone number, potentially with different entries for work, home and mobile
      • Contact preferences, e.g. whether they are happy to receive email or would prefer direct mail
      • Sales history including products purchased and when
      • Source of initial enquiry.

Each of these should be in a separate field so they can be identified and retrieved individually. For example, you may want a letter to have title, initial and surname (Mr J Roberts), but the salutation to say Dear Jack or perhaps Dear Mr Roberts. Unless you have each of these pieces of information held in separate fields, you will not be able to do this and will be restricted to whatever was initially put into the database.

If you have a complete name only, you may only be able to put ‘Mr Jack Roberts’ without the flexibility to construct it in different ways.

Post codes and individual address elements are another area where it is vital to hold each item separately. It’s impossible to target people in a chosen locality if the whole address is held as a single entry in an Excel cell, other than by using complex data manipulation.

Managing New Entries

A database will only ever be as good as the information contained within it. Try to include quality checking at entry stage rather than remedying problems after you’ve found them. Name and address checking software, such as the Postal Address File from Royal Mail, can check that entries are correct and valid. Tools to validate email addresses are also available, or you could simply email new entries and ask them to respond.

If multiple members of staff can make new entries then you will need a set of rules and guidelines to follow. Consider using technology to enforce these rules, e.g. not allowing the system to move to the next stage until ‘Source of Enquiry’ is entered.

Managing Existing Entries

Every database entry needs its own unique reference, such as a number allocated to every new record. Although people don’t like being referred to as a number, they also dislike it when you get their name wrong or don’t acknowledge them as an existing customer. If necessary, provide them with the number and ask them to quote it when they contact you.

Then, when they make a purchase or provide an update, their record can be called up on the database and amended without the danger of a new, duplicate entry being created. Even if a database has an in-built validation system that checks for existing entries, it might not identify an existing customer if the staff member spells the customer’s name wrong.

Databases need to be tidied up and cleared out every so often, known as a ‘cleanse’. This means periodically searching the records to remove duplicates and fix inaccuracies. There are companies that can do much of this for you, including ensuring it complies with legal aspects such as excluding customers registered with the Telephone Preference Service or who are recently bereaved (from the Bereavement Register). You simply upload your database records to them via a secure web browser and it will be returned to you ‘clean’ and updated.

Keeping the database up-to-date is important but is only a part of ensuring it effective. It needs to be created initially to be fit for purpose and also used to generate sales. Read Databases for Micro-businesses and How to Use a Database Effectively for guidance on both these topics.