By David H. Martin

As a water treatment dealer, you depend on your database to keep in touch with past customers for generating continuing business through cross-product sales and referrals.

Traditionally, you would keep customer relationships alive through two tools—the postal service and the telephone. Now, with the recent Congressional approval of a federal “Do Not Call” list, your outbound telemarketing program may be largely curtailed (see Newsreel this issue). Mailings are still very effective at maintaining business relationships, but increased mailing costs will place a limit on how often you contact customers.

How can you maintain frequency of contact with customers without phoning them or greatly increasing mailing costs? Email may be your answer. With more than 60 percent of homes on-line, email is the most popular Internet user application. In spite of increasing complaints of “spam,” email marketing is destined to grow. It’s fast, flexible and very economical. The problem of possibly offending email recipients can be overcome by following best email practices (see the March 2002 WC&P “Creative Marketing” column for a helpful list of “Email Business Guidelines” from the Direct Marketing Association.2)

What’s holding you back? For one, you probably don’t have customers’ email addresses in your present database.

David A. Alecock, vice president of TargetX, a Philadelphia-based email consulting firm, suggests a list of ways business can obtain customer email addresses. “Increasing the number of email addresses in your database can’t be accomplished overnight,” says Alecock. But, he stresses, it’s important to begin right away and involve everyone in your organization to ask for an email address in their daily interactions with customers: “Every one of these touch points is an opportunity to gain an email address for further low-cost communication and relationship building. You’ll find some customers actually prefer email over other forms of communication.”

Growing an e-database
The following “Ways to Grow Your Email Marketing Database” is adapted from a list by Alecock provided in an article at the TargetX website1:

  1. Call your customers and ask them to help you update your database and ask their preferences for receiving information.
  2. Include an “email request line” on every form you distribute.
  3. Require an email address on all order, offer and information request forms.
  4. Persuade prospects to give their email on your website by offering an inexpensive premium or discount offer.
  5. Print a blank line for email address on your remittance slips, right next to “Amount of Payment Included.”
  6. Match your “snail mail” lists against a database of known email addresses (a practice known as “email appending”).
  7. Ask for it at the conclusion of inbound customer service or inquiry calls.
  8. Request it on every seminar and other sign-up forms.
  9. Trade it for every speech and presentation you give. (“Give me your email address and I’ll send you notes on my presentation.”)
  10. Petition for it on “complaint” forms.
  11. Insist on it for reservation and appointment confirmations.
  12. Ask customers to write it on any product registration cards.
  13. Include it in “change of address” forms.
  14. Reward people visiting your booth at home shows by providing “Register Here to Win” forms with an email address line.
  15. Include it in any “frequent buyer” membership sign-up form.
  16. Ask delivery personnel to carry “Request for Database Update” forms to determine customer preferences for future “service reminder” communications including email.
  17. Seek it on customer comment cards. (“Tell Us How We’re Doing – and please give us your email for a quick reply.”)
  18. Require it on all “order acknowledgment” forms.
  19. Ask for it on customer surveys and service evaluation forms.
  20. Require it on “special offer” coupons from your print ads and flyers.
  21. Obtain it on “rain checks” for back order items.
  22. Request it on “after hours” customer service voice mail.
  23. Expect it for “salt delivery confirmation” from customers (to save mailing cost).
  24. Include it on “bounce back” mailing reply cards (“Return the enclosed postage-paid card and we’ll send you…”).
  25. Request it for future “service alert” messages (“Time to change filters…”).
  26. Ask for it as a means to make “Web-Only Special Offers.”
  27. Involve “complainers” by soliciting it for a quick response.
  28. Demand it for those who want notification that their merchandise is ready for pickup.
  29. Secure it from “stored value” and “gift certificate” holders.
  30. Ask for it when sending “VIP Customer Newsletters with Special Offers.”
  31. Request it from “pay by phone” customers.
  32. Include it on “refer a friend” forms (offer “opt out” message with first email).
  33. Ask for it from all company website visitors.

Alecock has some caveats when entering the world of email marketing: “To utilize email addresses, you’ll need to secure permission for future communication with a simple ‘opt in’ check box or notification to the recipient that their email address will be used to communicate with them. That’s not as hard as it sounds if you remind recipients upfront how they will benefit by sharing their email address with you. Communications can be faster, simpler and more relevant to customer needs then messages sent via more traditional means. Make sure you give recipients a way to ‘opt out’ of future emails, with each one you send. If you keep the information relevant, you’ll lose very few.”

A recent University of London survey of 700 marketers around the world predicts a long-term shift away from traditional media in favor of direct mail and web-based media including email. Closer to home, U.S. water treatment dealers can be expected to shift “telemarketing” dollars in light of new federal restrictions on outbound calls. With mailing costs rising, it’s logical that many will begin to include email for its ease of personalized offers and low cost.

Leveraging email must be taken with care to avoid offending customers who might mistake your messages for “spam.” At this point in time, purchasing outside so-called “permission-based” email lists isn’t recommended by many marketing experts. Building your own custom emailing list is much safer and offers a far better means to build a productive customer relationship and solicit referrals.

As I’ve said before in this column, the time to begin building your customer email list is now. It won’t happen overnight.


  1. TargetX, Bristol, Pa., website: http://www.
  2. The Direct Marketing Association, New York, website:

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: [email protected] or website:


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