4 Ways to Acquire Existing and New Customer Information

 In Internet Marketing, Tips for Clients & Business Owners

If you already have a retail store, you have many opportunities to connect with existing and potential customers and acquire their information for marketing. When you expand this storefront to the Internet, your opportunities mount even further. Gathering customer information allows you to continually reach your customers and prospects, either through online or offline marketing campaigns.

Depending on your business, you may want to send regular newsletters, monthly email specials, calendar events, postcards, or catalogs to current and potential customers. The more information you collect about each patron, the greater impact your marketing efforts can make, the stronger understanding you’ll have about your customers, and the better you’ll be able to serve them.

Before you begin building a database of existing and potential customers, make sure that you understand the basics behind protecting and ensuring their privacy. Businesses need to build customer trust and protect the data they’ve gathered. Make sure your new contacts are fully aware of the ways you’ll use their data, regardless of how you collect their information. The best way to do this is by instituting a “privacy policy.”

A privacy policy simply explains to your database what you’ll do with their personal information. Depending on your budget, you can either use a free policy wizard to create a basic privacy policy for you, like the one at p3pwiz.com, or you can hire a copywriter or an attorney to develop a more complex policy for you, but this is usually only necessary for very large corporations that sell products online, offer password-restricted user functions, or deliver other advanced features on their website.

Some questions to address when creating your Privacy Policy include:

  • Do you, or will you ever share or sell customer information with outside parties?
  • If you do sell their information, who will you sell it to and what will they use it for – contests, advertising, simple sales, or order processing?
  • If you use customer information to send promotions out, how frequently can they expect these?
  • What should your customers do if they want to opt-out from mailings in the future?

Proactively addressing your customer’s potential questions builds trust and confidence and keeps you compliant with growing federal privacy legislation. For more information on privacy, your responsibilities when collecting data from minors, or securing financial information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s online resource on the subject (http://ftc.gov/privacy/).

If you collect customer information online, post your detailed privacy policy on an easily-accessible page on your website and ask those giving you their information to read it. If you gather information at your store, keep your privacy policy posted in plain site near your sign-up mechanism, put pamphlets that customers can take with them somewhere by the sign-up mechanism, or be prepared to brief the customer before taking their information.

Once your privacy policy is in place, you can start building your contact list. Here are four quick and easy ways to gather new customer information, both online and off:

1. Add an “opt-in” mailing-list sign-up or newsletter subscription to your website. Opt-in means that the person is choosing to give you their information. Customers and prospects enjoy receiving valuable information, discounts, newsletters, and “email-only” exclusive offers, so if you position the way you’re going to use their information correctly, they’ll be more willing to give you their information. Give your website visitors the opportunity to opt-in to your promotions, then follow-up with an email marketing campaign every two to four weeks to stay in touch.

2. Offer a free download. A great way to draw interest and gather contact data is by offering a free download on your website. Examples of free downloads include:

White papers or research reports. These reports usually show industry trends, comparisons between various problems and solutions, and other industry-specific findings. Sites that offer these reports often suggest that visitors download these items to learn about the latest trends in their industry.

A short manual or ebook. These may be offered by any industry and adapted accordingly. For instance, a pet-supply store might offer a pet-care guide in the form of a medium-sized pamphlet or an online version of the work, known as an ebook.

A special report. Special reports are usually reviews or overviews of certain topics. Examples of downloadable special reports include things like a review of audio equipment provided by an audio/video shop, or a report exploring the importance of long-term care insurance authored by an insurance agent or agency.

A coupon. You’re familiar with coupons – certificates that consumers can redeem for discounts on certain products and services. Clothing stores, pharmacies, and just about any other retailer can offer downloadable coupons or rebates for customers, and various service providers can also integrate coupons into their marketing mix.

When your visitor requests this download, send them to a new web page where they’ll fill out a short registration process. When visitors are focused on downloading a free item at the end of the registration process, they’ll offer information freely.

3. Put an email sign-up sheet or book near the cash register. Many walk-in visitors would love to receive exclusive promotions, discounts, or special offers, but will forget to sign up if they have to visit your website when they return home. Popular clothing shops will often put a mailing list sign-up sheet or book next to the cash register and ask each customer if they’d like to put their email address on the list as they’re checking out. And restaurants will often use the “fishbowl” approach – they’ll ask customers to drop in a business card into a fishbowl or a similar container to win a free drink, appetizer, or lunch. If you offer a good incentive, customers will have a receptive disposition and won’t thing twice about giving you their information.

4. Include a tell-a-friend option on your website and email promotions. Word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most valuable customer-acquisition methods. When friends recommend an product or service to a friend, that referral holds much more weight than if a business alone boasted about its benefits. Let your website visitors or email promotion recipients tell their friends about you. This system can have a powerful, domino effect. To add this promotion’s function, ask your web designer to include the program on your website or do it yourself by using a free, tell-a-friend service like Refer A Friend.

It’s easy to leverage the strength of your online and walk-in traffic and encourage each visitor to join your contact database. These people have already shown interest in your products or services in one form or another – either by visiting your web site or your store. When you implement one or more of these strategies you’ll be on the path to building a strong, targeted contact list of current and potential customers that are eager to buy your product. Once you establish consistent communication with those people you’ll be able to watch your bottom line grow exponentially.

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