By Craig Conard

Every business has a finite target audience from which customers can be cultivated. Instead of an intensive focus to set strategy to penetrate this target audience, many organizations maintain a cyclical rhythm of same or similar marketing activities year over year.

Three basic truths underscore the need for a database marketing strategy:

1.Almost every prospective customer is currently surviving without your goods and services.

2.Just a small fraction is likely to be shopping for your goods or services at any point in time.

3. Sales success comes only when your product solves problems at the time customers realize they need to do something about it.

The successful intersection of placing sales people in front of prospects at the right time with the right offer is significantly enhanced by a good database strategy.

The degree to which you can identify your target audience and profile buyers within that audience greatly determines how exacting your lead acquisition tactics and database strategies can get. For instance, if you sell to companies that manufacture mining equipment, it's a rather simple exercise to identify all companies you aren't currently doing business with, and build a database accordingly. By contrast, if your target audience is businesses under 100 employees nationally, your challenges are significantly different.

Chances are your company has data all over the place; customer data in your accounting systems, customer and prospect data in the hands of your sales reps, and Customer Relations Management system (CRM), and likely, more data in your marketing databases. What you already own is important for getting started. Pooling existing data and looking at your existing customer base to examine the common characteristics of your best customers, especially your most profitable customers, creates a roadmap for the journey.

Start by looking at data points, such as: How did you begin your relationship with them? What are the titles of the people who you work with? What are the demographics of those businesses? How many companies are there just like these?

Once you define the profile of your target prospects, you can start sizing the market opportunity.

Online tools such as Infousa.com offer counts of businesses that fit your prospect profile. It's a simple exercise to determine which percentage of that addressable audience you already possess and what you need to acquire.

The next decision is whether to buy or build your list. Buying lists is a relatively easy first step, but building a list can be also achieved with any number of conventional and digital marketing tactics.

It is important to make sure every group within your organization is accountable for adding new contacts into your marketing database. Don't overlook activities such as trade shows, seminars, and social media interactions that should result in database additions. Savvy marketers know that every prospect is a potential sale.

What data should you collect when building a list? The most brilliant data collection strategies tend to be the simplest. Twenty years ago I would blue-sky every "great to know" data point imaginable, only to be disappointed later that not only could we not populate this information for most records, but very little useable information could be harnessed because of it.

Once you've created a master database, determine how to use it and who to allow access to it. The most common mistake today is over-communicating via e-mail. The result? Prospects stop paying attention to your communication or, worse yet, opt out of your database.

The best approach is to learn what prospects want to keep abreast of, and how they want information delivered. The more personalized the approach, the greater the trust and effectiveness of database marketing. Ultimately, we want prospects to come to us when they are in the evaluation or specifying stages of the buying cycle.

Finally, database hygiene is never a completed task, but a well-maintained, accurate database is the best investment strategy you can make with your marketing dollars.

Craig Conard is president of Sudden Impact Marketing, a Columbus-based marketing firm serving B2B clients since 1997. Reach him at (614)-942-0907 or Craig@simarketing.net.