Here’s a great question that came in this week . . .

“I’ve inherited an email list that has been populated with a form that collected only email addresses. In order to add these people to our new CRM, I need first and last names. Do you have any recommendations for email strategy to get people to share their names?”

First of all, this is not uncommon. People hear advice to keep forms as short as possible, so they only collect email addresses. Or to keep data entry simple and fast, they only enter email addresses. Naturally, it’s nice to know the names of the people behind the email address so you can build out a more complete record of that person in your CRM, merge their name into communications, etc.

There are a few different ways to go about filling in the missing data. But before you launch into any specific tactic, think about how you will strategically use whatever data you are collecting. Will you segment your mailings in a certain way? Will you merge in certain pieces of data (first name being most obvious)? You don’t want to create more work for yourself and bug people for more information than you will actually use. Just because you can collect and store all kinds of data about someone doesn’t mean you should. That said, a name is pretty basic and easy to justify.

The fastest way to solve this problem is to purchase a list append. There are all kinds of services where you give them your current list and they fill in what is missing. “List append” usually refers to buying the email address when you have the street address. “Reverse append” is providing details like name and street address when you only have the email. Just Google it to find a whole bunch of providers. These companies rely on a variety of sources to create vast consumer databases with this information. Many of these services can also perform an email list “scrub” where they will identify bad email addresses, spam traps, bots, etc. so you can remove those from your email list.

Of course, this comes with a fee. And it’s not a long-term solution for a growing list.

So the next thing you want to do is examine how people get on your list.

Look at your web and paper forms. Are you asking for the information you need? Is there a process for things that aren’t automated (like paper forms or secondary databases) to get that info into your email list?

Now, think about your content marketing strategy. Offer a great download or quiz results in return for someone’s contact information.

You can also survey your email list. Ask a couple of questions that will help you better understand and serve them while also filling in more information like names. Use a survey tool that is built into your email service provider or a survey tool that integrates easily so you aren’t manually updating records with survey results.

Hand correct where you can. For smaller lists, updating records by hand might also be possible. Many email addresses include names within the address. And with a little bit of searching, it’s fairly easy to find the names that go with an email address.

What other tactics have you tried to build out the data in your CRM or email list? Share in the comments.