It pays to get organised and maintain good communications by managing your prospect/client database. Any small business owner who hasn’t already made friends with Microsoft Excel (or a free alternative) is losing sales.
Every phone call you make, every conversation you have, each person you solicit should be logged and recorded for the sake of smooth business operations. If you are making cold calls, there is a greater burden of proof on you and EU legislation reflects this.
If you’re a direct marketer in the UK and Europe, it is mandatory.
The following article is not to be construed as legal advice. This post is meant as a resource to point you toward important information found elsewhere online.
European Union Data Protection Legislation
If you’re in the EU you’ll know new legislation is always on the agenda with regards to direct marketing activities. If you make unsolicited contact with a prospect this cold calling activity must be logged in detail.
You will need to take notes of exactly what is said in the event that the law demands a copy of your records following any complaints received. How exactly this will play out remains to be seen and some of the proposals to curtail UK direct marketers is unpopular red tape from Europe.
We have scammers, con artists, accident insurance companies, PPI salespeople and other such cowboys to thank for what I consider harsh legislation:
“Marketers will now need to keep a detailed record of how and when customer consent was obtained; what was actually said at the time of data collection and these records must now be available for inspection by the authorities on an ‘on demand’ basis, irrespective of the retrieval costs to business.”
Create a Spreadsheet/Database/System
On January 1st 2014, we were all advised to create a spreadsheet for logging any complaints in the event that any complaints are received. Extract is as follows:
“From a practical perspective, the following steps should be taken in order to minimise the possibility of a successful legal action being taken against a website operator that could result in substantial damages being awarded:
-implement an efficient complaints system;
-review internal policies to provide guidance to employees when a debate or expression of opinion crosses the line and is deemed to be defamatory;
-add a ‘report abuse’ button to the website;
-introduce a ‘traffic light’ system for assessing the nature of a complaint that’s been received and corresponding scale of target reaction given the severity of the nature of the complaint;
-in the terms and conditions (T&Cs) to which every website user signs up to must contain a clear definition of an ‘offending post’ and an explanation that, if the Operator receives a legitimate complaint of an offending post and on the complainant’s request, the post may be removed;
-also in the T&Cs should be clear, ‘acceptable use’ policies, removing rights of user generated content (UGC) and adding a ‘disclaimer’ to the website stating that the website operator isn’t involved in the creation of the content posted; and
-have an ‘opt in’ check box that users need to use to accept the T&Cs of posting material onto the website.“
The emphasis seems to be on permission based marketing.
If you manually add prospects or clients to your email subscription list (I have done this only for my web design business) you need their explicit consent to do so. Failure to abide by the law by adding people to an email list without their permission constitutes a violation of the ICO e-Privacy Directive and can result in a fine of up to £1000 if you cause “distress” or “damage”.
So, if you do add any subscribers manually to your list there’s be a greater burden of proof on you as the marketer. I know certain email management software lets you add prospects manually and you have to check a box agreeing you obtained that person’s permission first.
I have a column in my own spreadsheet database where I note whether or not someone is subscribed to my list. These are people I have added manually to the email management software.
- On this blog I provide some general tips on using email as a marketing method to help avoid mistakes that might annoy the recipient.
You always want to tread lightly when sending email in a sales solicitation context.
No Email More Opt-In Download Incentives
Furthurmore, using any kind of incentive to encourage email opt ins may become an offense. For example, many website “Operators” offer an eBook in exchange for an email address, and it is this practice that might be outlawed.
If you are doing this and get caught, it’ll be difficult situation to justify.
It’s a shame because that is how most marketers obtain email addresses these days and does not necessarily lead to nuisance email solicitations. Unfortunately it often DOES, and I see both sides of the argument, having been on the receiving end of a lot of crap.
I mentioned these European policies to my American friends and one of them said, “I hope this doesn’t travel across the pond.”
A Stitch in Time Saves a Fine
Being someone who likes to “get on with it” rather than feeling bogged down in finite details, I did not implement the system immediately. I was trading a few months before I put a system together.
Once I had done so my mind was much clearer and allowed me play to my strengths and get on with doing good marketing instead of worrying about poor management due to the lack of a system.
Do you really want to be wading through endless paperwork when you could have recorded the important details months before? Also, can you afford to pay a fine because you didn’t comply with the law? It’s best to get some sort of system set up.
Hell, even if you only ever take inbound enquiries, get the thing created anyway! It really helps you run your affairs better.
Compiling Your Marketing Data
So, the first thing you need is a spreadsheet template. You can get these from various websites, free.
Compile your prospect’s data into each row systematically. Include details of their business type and market, as well as any distinguishing or notable features of their business. This is the hardest part but it is worth doing well.
A good routine helps with effective follow up and takes the stress out of remembering all the details.
Record the Response to Solicitations
I am using a basic colour coded “traffic light” system denoting categorical response to my cold calls. The same system is used for inbound enquiries.
Red means they are not interested, Amber means they might be, and Green means they definitely want to use my services.
I also type in brief details of the telephone conversation under “Call notes” for my own reference. If I am away from my computer when dealing with a prospect or client, I jot notes and later transfer this info to the database.
Sometimes I call people 6 or even 12 months down the road knowing where the conversation left off. Armed with this knowledge you can serve your potential customer from a position of preparation, rather than losing that lead.
It’s a simple way of approaching things and tells me at a glance who I need to be focussing on and who can be ignored altogether.
Customer Database Template & Recommended Software
Apache Open Office (Comes with OpenDocument spreadsheet software)
Microsoft Office (Comes with Excel spreadsheet software)
- As well as keeping conversation notes, keep a date reference so you know when you entered the prospect data and/or last spoke to them.
- If you make any discount proposals or freebie offers, include those details in a dedicated cell of the spreadsheet.
- If cold calling always try and get the first name of your prospect.
- If you make a cold call always get permission to give them a call back at some later date if it is not an ideal time for them to talk. This is better than having them say they will call back as most people forget
- Use the search feature bundled with most spreadsheets if you need to quickly locate a name or phone number. CTRL & F is standard for Excel but it might vary with others.
- CTRL & F is useful if you are compiling new prospect data only to discover you have already got the same person in your records under a different business name. This has happened to me so be careful. You can seriously annoy people this way.
- If you make lots of cold calls do not under any circumstances be a nuisance!
- Do not send text messages to mobile phones unless you have first contacted and actually spoken to someone by telephone. Obtain their permission to send text messages.