Making the Biggest Excel Database Mistake?

The most powerful sales and marketing tool your business has is your database. Too bad only a tiny fraction of businesses are using theirs. When was the last time you heard from a company you do business with?

Your database can be used to increase customer service, add value, educate and increase sales in quiet times.

Sure many companies have customer data. But again I’m talking about using it, along with prospective customer data too.

Many small businesses keep their database in Excel. Actually, let me rephrase this. Their customer ‘list’ in Excel. While Excel is a standalone list, it is better than nothing.

Today I’d like to write about one of the largest Excel mistakes I’ve seen over and over and over again.

That is using umpteen columns, rather than categorising, or grouping into one column.

Let me explain the concept of categories rather than columns.

When planning your marketing database, the last thing you want is the hassle of a database that goes to the right forever, to AZ or DD. This means you’ll never stop scrolling to find the right column.

A field is a singular piece of information that is held in your database. You might have fields set up for first names, last names or phone numbers, for example. Each field has its own home or column (columns are vertical).

Each different customer will have their own row (rows are horizontal). So if your database consisted only of the first and last names of 10 clients, you’d have two vertical columns (first name and last name) and 100 horizontal rows (the 100 different customers).

If you don’t plan well from the beginning, you could end up with just too many columns to manage. The solution is to think in categories:

The wrong way

You set up a column for clients, a column for prospects, a column for old clients, a column for suppliers etc. Then you enter either the client name or perhaps a yes in the right column (old client) or a yes/no in each column.

The right way

It is much more efficient to set up one column called ‘client type’ and have different categories (or variables) to enter in that column. Your variables might be, for example, ‘client’, ‘old client’, ‘prospect’ and ‘supplier’. In other words whenever you can create a group, or eliminate the yes/no, true/false with a category – then do it.

Where this does not work is when your grouping would comprise too large a list of variables. For example let’s take a well published management consultant. He has 30 different products for sale and some of his clients have bought more than one product. He’d have to devise an incredibly large group with all the permutations available. Of course with one column he could have a string of items in one field each separated by a comma. What would I suggest in this circumstance? I’d see if he could break the group of 30 products down into a few categories. Perhaps one for audio, one for books, one for workshops, one for consulting.

This is doubly clever because then he can create targeted sales and promotional campaigns by simply sorting the database by name and product categories. For example, he can filter for the people who have bought a book in the past so that he can market a new one to them, or promote a seminar to those people who have previously been to a different one.

One more thing to note. Excel has excellent filtering. So even if a client spans several items in one category, you can still filter the list and it will pick up every person meeting the criteria.