Sharpen Your Axe: 10 Tips to Unleash Your CRM and Email Marketing


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Much like an axe, your database should be a critical tool in your efforts to build and manage your business. Varied strategies, broken or duplicated records and non-uniform definitions lead to non-productive activities. Simple techniques can help you strengthen your database to increase productivity while eliminating waste.

After years of working with many different CRM systems, I decided to put together a non-product specific list of tips that can apply to any CRM or Sales Force Automation database.

  1. Check email accuracy
    I’m sure you have tons of email addresses, but how many of them have you really checked and how many of them have you really used? Here’s a way to get a quick check on whether they are valid. Export just the email addresses to Excel. Use the Text to Columns function to parse the domain names. So, for example, jackjones[at] has jackjones in one column and in another. Now create a pivot table on the domain names. This will not only tell you that you have x number of addresses, but you will also see that you have an or an aol.con. Once you find the typos, go back to your original list and look up e-mail address in your database to make the appropriate corrections. If you are using an outsourced email marketing tool where you are charged for each message or have a message limit this will help. It will also save you time from having to deal with bounced emails when you are in the middle of a marketing campaign.

  2. Know your customer
    You’ve probably heard that it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to use your existing customers. So let’s take a look at your current database. You don’t want to send everything to everyone. Segment your database by product or service. If your company has a new product or service are you able to quickly run a query to know if someone is a magazine or catalog subscriber? Your database needs to be able to keep track of the products or product family that someone purchases. While this may seem obvious to you, you would be surprised at how many databases don’t have this information. Knowing who is more likely to buy a particular product or service will allow you to focus your efforts. According to Steve Callahan, Vice President of Business Development at Broadview Networks

    “It would be useful if we could sort by certain types of prospects. If something changes in our offering to add new features, it would be great be able to notify those prospects or customers using that service.”

  3. Dedupe
    My wife still uses her maiden name for work purposes. We get a number of mail pieces that are addressed to her and one to me at the same address. This is a waste of someone’s time and postage. While it’s easy to dedupe on a name and company combination, often you should try various other combinations to check for duplicates such as name and phone or last name and company. There are lots of databases I have seen with Bob Smith and Robert Smith at the same company. Yes I know there are exceptions with Senior and Juniors of the same name and address, but it really behooves you to check your database as many times and ways that you can for duplicates. There are many resources and tools to do this depending upon what CRM system you are using or you can export your data to Excel and dedupe in a number of ways. Deduplication will vary based on whether your company sells business to business or business to consumer. Give some thought as to what constitutes a duplicate in your world.

  4. Validate email addresses
    Previously I discussed validating the syntax or structure of an email address. offers a tool that can validate whether the person exists at the email address. You can see that our friend Jack Jones doesn’t have that AOL address. While this is a great tool to check a couple of emails, if you needed to check lots there are a number of other tools which you may have to open your checkbook for. Checking that email addresses are valid helps to get the cleanup going before you get started on your email campaign.

  5. Choose the right road
    Have you ever received a catalog from a company you ordered from five years ago and have no interest in ever ordering again? I continue to receive a catalog from the Printery House even though I will never order anything from them again. Think of how your “customers” will feel when they keep getting mail or email from you and they are no longer interested. Yes, I’ve heard all the “you never know when someone will order something, so we never take anybody off the mailing list.” I say its time to change that thinking. Decide ahead of time how long someone should stay in your database before you remove them and create a field such as Expiration Date or Date of Last Purchase to track that information. Sending out unwanted mail or email actually annoys some people and is no help and can cost real money.

  6. Mirror mirror
    What does your ideal customer look like? Not are they tall or good looking, but what are their buying habits, interests and other background that has made them a good customer? While in some industries this may seem easy, often good customers come in many shapes and sizes. While most everyone wants the big fish (a company will a lot of revenue) often more smaller or more profitable companies could be better customers for you. It’s not always easy to identify the profile of the prospect, but once you can add some characteristics to your database, you’ll then be able to find prospects that fit certain profiles. Some industries may be better suited for your product or service than others. What factors are important in your business that makes a good customer? Run a report of your top customers and their characteristics and see if you find any surprises. Once you are able to find those characteristics, you can look for them in your prospects.

  7. Give a book it’s cover
    Most databases have a field for Status, but is everyone in your organization crystal clear on what they mean. I once was at a company where everyone agreed that there should be a Prospect A, Prospect B, Prospect C and Customer status. What was not clear was what the exact definitions of these where. One salesperson based the status on the potential size of the client, while another based it on the potential sale to the company. There is no right answer here, the only thing that matters is consistency and an understanding across the board of what each one means. I once saw a company where everyone made up their own. Boy was that fun to try and clean up! The Status definitions need to be written down and made sure everyone agrees on them. Something as simple as “Former Customer” could be interpreted in several ways. Clear definitions will help you and your staff to better analyze your database.

  8. Tag you’re it
    While sending email is the easiest and cheapest way to reach vast amounts of people, give some thought to reaching them in other ways using your database. With the amount of email everyone is receiving these days, its often hard to get through to prospects or customers. Think about trying to reach people in more traditional ways such as fax, postcards or a real letter. Yes, it costs more, but it’s a differentiator. People aren’t getting hundreds of faxes or postcards and they actually have to read them before they get thrown out, so you may have a chance to get your message across. The benefits of an alternative approach are that you many be able to stand out from your competitors. With email marketing so prolific these days, doing something different may get you noticed.

  9. Road maps
    It’s extremely helpful to know where a lead or prospect came from for a couple of reasons. If that lead ever does turn into business, you want to be able to go back to that source to see if you can get more. Also if the lead is from a person or company, you want to make sure and thank that person or company. This is very important in sales; otherwise you may not be getting more leads. In some CRM systems you can link contacts to other contacts. I highly recommend doing this so that you can see who is linked to whom. Every CRM system has the ability to add fields and most come with a field called Source or Referred by. Use it and you will derive some success from it. It’s not only important to note that the referral was from a current customer, but which one. Make sure your database has both a field for the referral source as well as the name and not bury that information in the notes. The benefit is that you will be able to run reports and see where your prospects or business came from.

  10. Don’t spam
    It’s the law. If you are sending out any type of mass email, the CAN-SPAM Act requires that each email has a way for people to opt-out or unsubscribe. If you not doing this right now you need to get that taken care of. Any time you send out any mass email you risk becoming a spammer. You should be aware of what certain spam filtering software looks for when checking if a message is spam. For example, the excessive use of the word FREE can be viewed as spam-like. Too many exclamation points and too much ALL CAPITALIZATION could also be flagged as spam. If you want to test your message you can send in your email to get your Spam Check Score.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear if you have other tips that worked. Send me an email at [email protected] and let me know what’s been helpful to you.

Image used with permission from Jana Cook.

Rich Spitz
I have been a CRM consultant for the past 2 years, helping organizations to be more effective with ACT!, Saleslogix and SageCRM systems. I have done numerous installations, customization and trainings in all of those packages.


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