Of all the statistics cited in the annual ProSales 100 feature, the ones that caught my attention were listed under the headline "IT Doesn't Matter Much." Here we are, working in a revolutionary so-called Information Age, yet survey respondents said they "intended to spend less than 0.50% on information technology."

Bob Wiltse This baffles me. While companies across the country are struggling to survive, one major weapon that could help spark resurgence seems to be underappreciated. I assure you: IT does matter. It's more than an accounting tool. It's a powerful marketing weapon.

Remember, marketing is everything you do, everyday, that makes a positive impression. The best marketing differentiates your offer from all others. IT springboards differentiation.

In their book Differentiate or Die, Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin wrote that "products must be augmented by offering customers more than they think they need or have come to expect." This, they said, "could be with additional services or support."

Many retailers already base successes on great relationships. To do that, you build processes around providing better experiences. Sophisticated use of technology will help take those experiences to the next level. IT will help set you apart from the pack. It will give you a competitive edge.

Here are 3 ways to make IT a sales generating machine.

Your corporate website is more than a slick brochure. It's your introduction to a relationship. In his book Permission Marketing, Seth Godin writes: "Permission Marketing is just like dating. It turns strangers into friends and friends into lifetime customers." First, you need to be trusted. So, to ease your way into a relationship, offer a prospect an incentive--like information, or a sweepstakes, or a free gift--for volunteering their contact information to you.

For example, you might invite a builder to download a report about "Five Ways We Can Help You Complete Your Jobs on Time." On your website, you collect the e-mail of the prospect when they request the paper and add them to your newsletter subscriber list. The report is free. It has value. You showcase your expertise. You continue to court them. You're on your way.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tracks and organizes your contacts. It makes every communication a one-to-one experience. You have a record of every conversation that everyone in your company ever had with a customer--across every division and every department.

For example, sales managers will use a CRM software package to capture, qualify and distribute leads, and manage the pipeline. They'll have a complete view of each prospect and customer--contacts, assets, account history, latest news, and more. And they can compare similar opportunities, and learn from each.

There are many, many powerful uses for CRM. They give you huge advantages. Some enterprise software programs now include CRM modules. You ought to look into it.

Customer Account Access, Order Tracking, Online Payment, Online Invoicing, and Online Inventory/Pricing are all fast becoming standards in enterprise systems. They are extensions of CRM. They're marketing weapons because they cause customers to buy more from you. You provide convenience, speed and efficiency--a better experience.

For example, customers no longer will have to wait on the telephone, interminably on hold, while a sales rep checks the status of a special order. Instead, the system automatically sends a confirmation by email that the item has been ordered, with a due date. The customer can then check the status online at any time, day or night. After the order is received at your warehouse, another email is instantly sent to the customer and the sales rep. All that's left is to schedule delivery.

Think about the efficiencies gained by your sales rep and the customer. Think about the value of the experience for your customer. You'll win them over.

To an outsider, a prospect, every LBM retailer looks alike.You all sell the same products--that you purchased from the same manufacturers, distributors and buying groups--for the same prices. You all say that relationships with your customers, and "service" and "quality" are key.

So, how do you differentiate?

If your ultimate goal is life-long relationships, positive experiences give you a commanding presence. They cause someone to buy from you again and again.

Information Technology makes it all possible. IT does matter. It's a marketing weapon. The opportunity is yours. Based on the survey results, few others are using it. To gain an edge, you've got to build IT into your plans.

Bob Wiltse is a marketing specialist for small to mid-size independent LBM retailers. Contact him at bob@woodframemarketing.com or 888-897-3671.