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How long should you keep people in your marketing database?

Database marketing‘Tis the season to send out holiday cards to relatives, friends, and business contacts. Maybe you have some friends on your list that you haven’t spoken to or heard from in ages. How long do you keep sending them cards at holidays?

The practical folks would probably cut them off after a year or two of no contact or response. Some of us probably can’t bear to ever drop people off our list—just in case…

A similar thought occurs to us marketers when we think of doing a direct mail or other marketing campaign. One important difference, though, is that we’re spending money out of our precious marketing budget. We expect not only a response, but also sales and revenue far and above what we spent. So let’s cut these slackers off our list, shall we?

Hold on a minute. I’ve found that companies often remove people from their databases far too soon–especially considering the potential lifetime value of the prospect and her company.

Sure, if they can only buy your product once, take them out when they do. But for the rest, consider keeping contacts in your database forever, or until they opt-out, or at least as long as it’s still cost-effective to contact them. My clients frequently tell me they are closing sales from prospects that have been in their database for two, three, four or more years.

How about running some numbers? If it costs $250 to get a new inquiry and $25/year to keep in touch with a prospect, you can afford to keep a prospect for up to 10 years at the same cost.

If you do want to trim your lists, ask the contacts if they’re still interested in hearing from you. Keep the “yeses,” and I recommend keeping the rest in the database but flagging them so they are not included in campaigns. That way you can still find them later if you need to.

And how about those friends you don’t keep up with? You may get a warm response from a hand-written personal note instead of the cookie-cutter photo greeting card.  Or just keep doing the same thing…just in case.


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