Developing Your Database

Effective marketing requires delivering the right message to the right person at the right time in the right media.

Imagine your closing ratio if you could mass communicate individually with each potential client one-on-one. If you knew about their individual needs, desires, family status, lifestyle and budget, you could target your message to fit those attributes.

Now, what if you knew why they made the decisions they did…and if you understood each person’s communication preference? Wouldn’t you use that information to close the deal?

That is the essence of relationship marketing – it’s the ability to have a one-on-one conversation with all your past and potential clients simultaneously – to develop a unique relationship. With today’s technology, kitchen and bath dealers and designers establish and maintain mass communications tailored to the individual client across various media simultaneously and continuously.

While there are companies that specialize in database programs geared for the kitchen and bath industry, dealers and designers can also create these relationships utilizing basic office technology. It all begins with a database of information about the clients.

Collecting Data

Long before I knew there was a kitchen and bath industry, I worked in broadcast television. During that time, I met Gayle, an account manager at a high-end digital animation studio. During the course of our conversations, she would ask rather pedestrian questions and then listen carefully – nothing was too mundane. I later discovered that my responses and comments were transferred to my “dossier” – an index card. Gayle knew my birthday, my anniversary, my wife’s birthday, how I drank my coffee and thousands of other preferences. I would get reminder calls about things I had told her…“Did you buy that gift for your wife? If not, you’d better get it today.” I had three opportunities to use a high-end animation studio; Gayle got the job each time.

She was the queen of databases before we had desktop computers. Gayle understood the concept of relationship marketing and the need to learn about her clients and prospects in order to be successful.

The first step in developing a relationship marketing program is creating the database, and the first step in developing a database is to determine the information you want to capture. Gretchen Cutsler, marketing director of Beaufort, SC’s Kitchen Design Center says, “We strive to collect complete names, titles, organizations, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Web sites – if applicable – and comments.”

Michael A. Luzier, CKD, of ML Designs in Aurora, CO, takes his database even deeper. “Although it varies by client, we try to collect birth dates, anniversaries, date of purchase for follow up and other pertinent information.”

Tim Aden, CMKBD, co-owner of Sawhill Custom Kitchens & Designs, Inc. in Minneapolis states, “In addition to the usual information, we are diligent in asking people to opt-in to our mailing list for newsletters and other communication we send.”

“If you only collect the ‘usual’ information, you’re barely scratching the surface of the potential of your list,” says Paul McDonald, president of Royal Cabinet Co. in Hillsborough, NJ. “We attempt to capture as much information as possible, for instance when they came in, what products they showed interest in, hints about how they make decisions, lifestyle information, etc. I have learned from experience that the more I know, the more effective the follow up.”

Once you begin to collect the information, you need to determine where you will store the data. There are several great programs you can use, including Access and Excel FileMaker Pro, Act, Outlook and even some accounting programs. Generally, software that provides the flexibility to create large numbers of fields and export information as a tab- or comma-delimited file is sufficient for basic relationship marketing programs.

In addition to the off-the-shelf products, there are some created exclusively for the kitchen and bath industry, typically as part of showroom management programs. For instance, according to Brian O’Rourke, founder and president of The Kitchen Pond, “We created fully integrated lead tracking and data entry systems as a part of Kitchen Manager. We found that through forms, design surveys and day-to-day conversation, kitchen designers learned a lot about their clients and they needed to be able to track that information – and not just for marketing purposes, although it certainly works for that. Having information at your fingertips allows you to react to a client quickly and effectively. Relationship marketing is a bonus.”

While collecting the information can appear to be a challenge, with a little creativity, good listening skills and diligence you can create a robust database.

Cutsler collects information “while I am on sales calls with architects, interior designers, home builders, real estate agents and other allied professionals to sell Kitchen Design Center’s services. I take precise notes during my meetings and transfer the information to our database. In addition, we gather data from professional Web site directory listings, ads, association meetings and networking functions.”

Aden says that, “As tenants in Minneapolis’ International Market Square, Sawhill Custom Kitchens and Designs gets numerous trade and consumer events in our building, and that’s a lot of traffic. We make every attempt to get these visitors to complete a guest registration form, on which we ask for the basic information, including e-mail addresses. We include a check-box on the card that gives us permission to contact them with e-mails. This is especially important, as sending non-solicited e-mail needs to be in compliance with U.S. anti-spamming laws.”

“Everyday conversations with our clients provide invaluable information for our database,” adds Luzier. “As we get to know clients, we add pertinent information to the database; important dates such as birthdays and anniversaries, favorite restaurants and other lifestyle information that allows us to communicate and connect more effectively.”

“If it looks like a source of information or appears to be a way to enhance your database – it is,” says Gluck. “I look through trade magazines and news stories; I talk to friends, associates and clients. I am a regular at trade shows and networking events, and I use our Web site to collect information.”

The Internet offers today’s relationship marketer an effective tool for gathering information about potential clients. People are looking for information and Web sites are a great place to offer it. In addition to basic “brochure” information found on most sites, dealers and designers can offer more detailed information via Adobe Acrobat files, a blog, a podcast, a video of a seminar or PowerPoint slides. Then, Web site visitors can be asked to complete a form to gain access to these “extras.”

As an example, I often offer the handouts from my marketing seminars on our Web site, but only to those who fill out a form with contact information. Over the years, my database of kitchen and bath professionals has grown to about 700, with more joining each week.

Another way to build and enhance a database is to purchase a list of mailing addresses, occupations or association memberships. It’s a good idea to avoid purchasing e-mail lists, however, since these can quickly become dated, and can be problematic to use due to anti-spamming laws.

Mailing lists are available for purchase in almost every configuration imaginable, with cost being determined by the number of variables requested. In fact, Aden notes, “We just purchased a mailing list for our semi-annual newsletter program. We wanted to target a specific suburb of Minneapolis known for its luxury homes; for less than $500, we got the top 1,600 homeowners in the area. They will all be receiving our next newsletter.”

McDonald adds, “When purchasing lists, we tend to look at annual income, as well as home ownership and tax value. The owner of a million-dollar home may be retired without the disposable income required to fit our target client. With the ability to slice and dice a list based on specific criteria, we want to optimize our efforts with the closest match to our ‘target client.’”

In addition, information can also be gathered through give-a-ways at home shows, or through advertising efforts. One way to do this is to offer a free incentive to one lucky winner, but to let people know that to be eligible, they must complete an entry form – which, of course, becomes a part of your database.

“Over the last few months, we have begun to hold open houses which are a combination educational seminar and factory tour of our cabinet manufacturing facility,” says McDonald. “By requiring a pre-registration, we are able to collect information before anyone ever sets foot in our showroom, and once they are here and we begin conversations, additional data is added. We also gave away a free vanity at our initial open house, and asked that an entry form be completed to become eligible to win.”

Using Your Database

Collecting data and maintaining a central repository gets you started – now how do you use this information to effectively increase profits?

Remember that your goal is to develop a relationship through personalized communication based on what you know about your [potential] client. So, in addition to the “usual information” (name, address, etc), consider the message, the timing and the delivery system.

Even if your message is generic, whether you send it as a postcard during the first or second week of the month may impact the response rate. Mail sent the first week may get lost in a mass of bills, and never see the light of day, while mail sent during the second week may stand a chance of being read.

What effect would there be if the delivery system was a postcard to one person and a DVD to another? Would you personally take the time to view a DVD? Would it intrigue you enough to pop it in the player? It would be great if you knew enough about your recipients to know what they prefer.

Many dealers are participating in basic relationship marketing. According to Aden, “We use ‘mail merge’ to create labels for the Thanksgiving and holiday cards we send, for post-project surveys and testimonial letters, as well as for anniversary cards a year after the project is completed.”

At Kitchen Design Center, Cutsler says “We utilize our database for monthly e-newsletters, and for letters to prospective clients and allied professional partners.”

“We personalize thank you notes” adds Luzier. “Immediate follow up after a sale for referrals is proven to generate about a 15% return.”
According to Gluck, “In addition to newsletters and birthday cards, I send information I think my clients will find interesting – regardless of industry. If you are in a position to help inform potential clients with relevant e-mails or articles, you have accomplished a couple of goals; first, you have developed the relationship just a bit more, and second, you have made them a more informed purchaser of your services.”

But this is just the beginning. Consider two communiqués: One is the generic kind you might send introducing a sale on Brand X dishwashers, while the other is written utilizing the information you have in your database.

Database information is indicated with >.

Dear >,
When you visited our showroom last >, you said that you wanted the > in your new >. And as I recall, you said that were likely to begin the project around >. >, the good news is > is giving me a great deal from now until the end of the year. You can begin 2007 with a new > and be the envy of your neighbors on >! I will call you Thursday evening to follow up, or call my office to schedule an appointment.
Thanks, and I look forward to working with you >.

Or you can send the following:

BRAND X Dishwashers are on sale until the end of the year. Call to make an appointment with a member of our design team, or come by our showroom. Begin 2007 with a brand new kitchen with the new innovative BRAND X Dishwasher!

Put yourself in the customer’s position – which message influences you more?

Gluck offers these words of advice: “Use relationship marketing as a general tool, but make sure the information is accurate before you send information. Databases are great, but very often, you will still need to pick up the phone and make contact to maximize your success.”

Cutsler adds, “When prospective clients arrive at your showroom, have a sign-in sheet or questionnaire to gather e-mail and other contact information for future communications. Develop a client satisfaction survey.”

“Keep the list up to date. If a message is returned, adjust the database accordingly,” recommends Aden. “Use calls to action to track the message to help determine what works best. Collect as much data as you can and use it for a number of different marketing efforts. And finally, don’t be afraid to spend some money developing the list, because the more you use it, the more valuable it becomes. Although it’s time consuming to start from scratch, you’ll be amazed at how many uses there are for such data.”

Luzier adds, “Any firm that wants to grow should be doing referral follow up. An accurate and robust database makes it simple, efficient and effective, and it will pay off – literally. Either launch your own, or retain a professional to help, but develop a database today.”

Today’s technology gives kitchen and bath dealers and designers the power to mass communicate with individuals on a personal level, developing and enhancing relationships resulting in increased sales and higher profits. It all begins with the database that facilitates the delivery of the right message to the right person at the right time in the right media.

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