The Roman philosopher Seneca noted that "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." Nowhere is this more apparent than in the process of sales information management. Whether you are an organization or an individual, one obvious lesson you must take away from today's challenging times is that information management is crucial to your long-term success.

Rick Davis Customer relationship management (CRM) is a term often used to describe database management, but it falls short of preparing you for the opportunities and crises you may face in the coming months and years. CRM focuses on your customer base, while the larger picture of database management (DBM) includes information about customers and prospects.

From my observations of LBM dealers, there is unequivocal evidence that most do not have adequate information and resources to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Answer the following questions to determine how prepared you are for the battle ahead.

1. If your key salesperson quit tomorrow to work for a competitor, would your company have all the information it needs to maintain relationships with the salesperson's customers? If your answer is no, and you suspect that your salesperson would walk out the door with information you wish you had kept over the years, you need to rethink your database strategy.

2. Do you have a distribution strategy for e-mail and direct mail communication to customers in your market? This is not a simple question because it addresses more than your preparedness; it includes your execution. If you have not communicated information about events, pricing specials, industry happenings, and other public relationship news, then you need to rethink your database strategy.

3. Do you have readily accessible information about numerous contacts for each of your customers? A successful sales leader ought to know more than a single contact in a client's organization. For every customer you have, it is certain that there are several people, perhaps dozens, for whom you should have contact information and notes.

If you are like most people and organizations, you probably answered a hesitant "yes" to these questions while admitting you ought to do a better job of managing information. If you are managing this information with paper and pen, then you are trying to win a gunfight with a slingshot, and eventually your competition will down you. If you are not managing this information with a proper computer software tool (a spreadsheet is inadequate, and even your back-end computer software with only CRM capabilities has likely deficiencies), you need to rethink your database management strategy.

Here is the final test of your database management strategy. Go back and substitute the word "prospect" for "customer" in the preceding questions, and answer them again. If you're like most LBM dealers, the answers become "no." In other words, your DBM strategy falls far short of your CRM strategy. In challenging times, your DBM strategy is the plan by which you will leverage opportunities when they appear.

If your top competitor in the market closed tomorrow, a solid DBM strategy would enable you to quickly communicate with its former customers. If you want to quickly publicize a price increase of special promotion, a DBM strategy is the ideal tool to facilitate that communication. If you want to target a group of individuals geographically, a DBM strategy is the answer. In short, it is the DBM strategy that enables you to win the battle of speed in a world of instantaneous communication.

This is a time for survival of the fittest business leaders. Information is the key to business success in the 21st century. If you haven't developed a DBM resource, then you are unprepared for the opportunities that may come your way. Opportunity sometimes knocks only once on your door. Be prepared to answer the call.

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization.