As I travel the country, one thing becomes apparent: When it comes to database systems, too many LBM dealers still don't get it. In spite of advances in technology and an abundance of these systems, hundreds of lumberyards ignore this technology resource.

Running a sales organization without an information storage system is like running a bakery with a toaster oven. When baking a loaf of bread, you need an oven that's robust enough to handle all the dough at the proper temperature. When building sales, without an information methodology in place, there is no way to adequately process all the information that comes in regarding your prospects.

Why does this happen? During my meetings with LBM owners, it quickly becomes apparent that these people view their organizations as operational entities rather than as sales and marketing businesses. These executives recognize that equipment and overhead expenses are essential to the profits they generate from storing and delivering materials, but they fail to see the dramatic return on investment that can come from maintaining a database of prospects and customers.

No company can call itself a marketing and sales organization if it has not created a systematic method for processing market information.

Your investment in customer and prospect information will yield positive results in the short run and provide significant return on investment in the long run. Here are some essential points I recommend my clients contemplate when choosing the best database solution for them.

It must be sales driven. Database management is not an IT department initiative. Any IT department might eagerly tell you the abundance of ways it can slice and dice information about your customer base. But when you ask how it can slice and dice information about prospects, get ready for a blank stare. A database is designed to give you names, phone numbers, e-mails, and addresses. Use it as a contact management tool, not simply as an accounting function.

It must support productivity. The moment your salespeople suspect that you just installed Big Brother, you have lost. Your primary objective must be to create a program that salespeople readily accept as a tool for their personal productivity. When a salesperson sees how easily he or she can manage information, that person will more readily buy into the program.

It must be scalable. Your objective must be to start slowly and build. The first step for our clients is to obtain information, beginning with phone numbers and addresses. In order to create buy-in from your salespeople, begin getting contact data, then later add more qualitative business information, such as scope of work, production volume, and secondary contacts.

It must allow segregation. As a database is developed, it must include a method for general corporate applications such as data analysis, tracking activity, and mailing list development. At the same time, each salesperson should have access only to the information regarding their respective customers and prospects. Thus, the proper software investment should include means of access for various departments, managers, and salespeople.

Information wins, and the winners of the future will be those that thrive by managing business relationships. More significantly, the best organizations are those that can communicate on a multitude of levels–handshakes, e-mail newsletters, and paper newsletters–to many customers and prospects in the market. If you don't have a method for managing this valuable information, you are not prepared for the battle that lies ahead.

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders, Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization. 773.769.4409. E-mail: [email protected]