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Keeping on Top of Your Database

When I was mailing out holiday season cards I felt quite smug because our list had been updated just six months prior to the mailing.

I mailed 230 cards this year, and six where returned as undeliverable. Only six, you say? That’s a rate of 2.6% – I was appalled! Being in the data business I am fanatical about keeping information current.

None of the cards were returned because of an undeliverable address since all addresses had been verified and certified with our address correction software. The six returns included two from the same organization whose office had moved just five months earlier (and I guess they didn’t feel it was worthwhile to pay the $$ that Canada Post charges to have the mail follow to a new address…). The other three had left their organization and one had been transferred.

In spite of my very best efforts, 2.6% of my data had gone bad within six months. According to industry standards, this is a very low percentage. The average database perishes at a rate of 15-25% per year. This rate accelerates when the economy is in turmoil, when an industry is growing at a fast pace or is facing consolidation.

So what to do if your database is a mess?
Here are a few tips:
  1. Unlike me, accept that the minute you’ve finished updating your database, something in it will be obsolete. It’s the circle of life!
  2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water... The data may not be current but if the list includes relatively large companies and phone numbers, chances are you can re-coup some data with a little time and effort. Buying new data isn’t cheap -- Dun & Bradstreet, Hoover’s, InfoCanada, charge anywhere from $0.50/record for a simple list to $3-$4/record for detailed data. And it’s no guarantee that those lists will work for your purposes because the meeting planning function isn’t one that is collected by list brokers and agencies.
  3. Update in small chunks. Set aside a few hundred records, get those updated, and feel good about what you’ve done… And keep this part of the database clean from hereon!
  4. Be brutal. If a record can’t be updated in a pre-determined number of phone calls, archive it, delete it, or do whatever, but get it out of your regularly accessible records.
  5. When you make a call, start at the top – the executive assistant to the President often will know who plans meetings. To get by a particularly tenacious receptionist, ask for the Sales Department. Sales is a great place to start since it's the department that has client events, incentive programs, and sales meetings.
  6. Organize a "data cleansing party": I remember the days when the boss would have us stay late, ply us with chocolate and coffee and have us purge hundreds of files over an evening or on the weekend (I’m seriously dating myself here… that’s when we hadpaper files!). Pull from your departments that may be seasonal or under-employed in winter, like reservations. Set them up in a room with the phones and access to only those records that require updating. Give them a short script, and let them dial!
  7. Offer an incentive to keep the data up to date, and be creative! Send out an eblast with the help of a professional firm so that the message will have a better chance of passing by spam filters. Offer a free service, a heavily discounted rate or even a gift if the person clicks on the link to update their information.
  8. Make sure you continually replenish your database. Plan to keep your funnel full by topping it up with new sources of data. Upload that list from the tradeshow, or cross-reference the new MPI membership list you just received. Enter the new contacts in your database and start marketing to them!
  9. What should you expect? Using the telephone and the internet to look up phone numbers, an experienced person should be able to update 10-15 records per hour, depending on whether they are only updating the contact information (the easy part) or if they have to seek the person who plans meetings and events (a more difficult task as we all know).
Some much wiser person than me said that "it’s the simple things that are difficult to do, but those simple things are often all that it takes to be successful." Data cleansing isn't rocket science but it's time-consuming and requires consistency. Remember that clean client and prospect data will make you a more efficient hospitality sales and marketing organization!