There has been a buzz for a number of years about customer relationship management (CRM) in the construction supply industry.

The packages being used range from the Big Chief Notebook to a full blown integrated CRM package tied into an enterprise wide computer system. I feel the most important part of the package is not the technology, but the information.

When deciding on what package to use or how to better manage your package, make sure that your CRM package fits in with the goals of your company or your strategic plan. For example, if you want to add 10% to your sales in 2012, are you using your CRM data to generate leads and close deals?

I feel that a CRM package initially is 90% information and 10% technology. Once you have used the package for a few years and you have an arsenal of contacts and information about the contacts, the technology will become more important as you automate your management of the information.

Creating a CRM package should start with the basics and gathering of data. I recommend the general information like name, company, address, phone (cell, home, work, and fax), email address, birthday, and customer type.

A customer type might include roofer, framer, builders, painter, or vendor. The idea here is to determine what type of customers you might have, including non-customers where you might want to gather information; I have used vendors in my example.

Each time you reach out to a customer, write down notes about your conversation. For example, if you speak to Joe Builder on February 1 about his new projects that he might be starting in the spring, put all of this information in your system with a follow-up date. Use the follow-up date to trigger your future call to the builder and discuss the status of the project.

I believe that dealers that are not using CRM are losing ground. Their CRM-using competitors are slowly tapping into their customers and taking them away.

The Federated Associations have a BMOC survey and the survey aggregates numbers in our industry. I strongly suggest that you participate in the survey by contacting your association. However, this survey does not include new customer counts, which I agree with. You should, however, include this in your own numbers.

If you want to grow your sales, and more importantly your profitability in 2012, began tracking new customers. Chart the number of new customers by month and make it a game for your employees, giving some incentive like movie tickets or a meal if you reach a certain goal.

Think of your CRM package as having another employee that is collecting data on all your leads and assisting in the follow-up of your existing clients. Get started now so that when the weather breaks you are ready to service your customers.

"Get your CRM on" and watch your sales and profits grow in 2012.

Chris Rader is a business consultant based in Lafayette, La. Contact him