I don’t care what field you are in. If you are building a business, there is one fundamental concept you should embrace from day one, a database. It doesn't matter if you can not afford to buy one because, in reality, you can. It is called Excel. Start there and have a plan to get to an (ideally) online database within a year.
Do you know how many big companies have multiple databases with differing information sets and instances (often sold to them by the same company)? Too many.
Our company uses Salesforce.com. We had a database from the beginning because we came from non-building materials backgrounds where data was king. I am glad we did. That database is at the crux of our business. It drives everything that we do.
The longer you wait, the higher the price later. If you don’t have a database, you are combing through emails and notebooks, trying to find information that could have been at your fingertips.
Switched servers? Oops, can’t find that anymore? Switched email clients? Uh-oh.
Here are six database tips for the building and construction world:
1) Don’t get fooled by the hefty price tag.
I am not sure why they do this, but companies like Salesforce walk in with the Tesla when you really need a SmartCar. You can have the SmartCar, you just have to ask them for a more basic version. You don’t need all the bells and whistles and you should be able to use Salesforce for a reasonable price. We do.
2) Make them use it.
The best way to have a database fail is to let people get away with not using it. Do NOT do that. Make it mandatory. Employees will push back at first because it is new and involves data entry. Six months down the road, when Cari needs to find the price that Sandy quoted Fred Smith Construction, she is going to be really happy that it was a click away and well documented.
3) Figure out what you are using it for.
There are so many ways to use a database. It can simply be a contact and account list, it can manage all your leads and follow up, it can be a marketing campaign tool, a project pipeline, a quoting mechanism, an inventory tool, or integrate with financials, and so much more. But look at your business, figure out what you need TO START WITH, and hide the rest of it (you can customize tabs and layouts to hide all the crap you are not using). This makes it much more visually pleasing, less cluttered and not so overwhelming to first-time users. We started out by using ours to manage our contact lists, the sales pipeline, and opportunities. This gave us an idea of how much business was likely coming our way, gave us a place to monitor our communications with our clients, and keep track of projects as they moved through various phases. We only show accounts, contacts, and opportunities. We opted out of showing leads and campaigns. This made this manageable and well used by the team. Once we had good adoption, we built on it which you'll learn on as described a later in this article.
4) Garbage in, Garbage Out.
Don’t let the new guy upload their database into your system if you have not vetted it yet. Good for you, you have a bunch of contacts, but if I am selling to kitchen and bath stores and you upload a list of electricians and plumbers, you did not do me any favors and now I have to figure out who to email about my new K&B Store promotion. Make sure you are deleting or archiving old records and contacts that have moved on, old prices, part numbers and continuing to stay up to date with new materials.
5) Establish a Process.
You can’t let everyone use a database the way they want to use it. You have to set some ground rules and guidelines for using it. Example: Every new lead has to be assigned to an account. Every new account must have an address. Every new contact must be followed up on within 24 hours of being added to the database. Once everyone is using the database the same way, or within the same framework, you can really start to optimize it.
6) Build on It.
Your database is your pearl, now build the oyster. Once you have that good core of data and it is the engine driving your business (which it should be, as it is a place where all of your contacts with your correspondences and interactions with them), you can build on it in many ways.
Some examples of what we did:
- Email integration. Click, add an email automatically to the database. Just like that.
- Quotes. Adding a quoting module was a game changer for us. Going to an account and finding all the quotes that you had sent out and being able to reference those for accurate pricing in one spot is incredibly efficient. Also, quotes are requested from within the database, eliminating the headache of emails getting lost or forgotten. The team that does quote logs in see the list of what is on the agenda today and start quoting first thing. The sales team see the quotes as they go out, but they have also stored this in the account and the contact records information automatically within the database.
- Samples. This was also a big deal. Before, our samples team would get an email after sending a request saying “send this sample to this guy at this address” and they would have to go into the system, look them up, find the samples and get them out via Shipper. Now, the sales team logs the request in the database, selects the samples from a drop down and the fulfillment team logs in - the name is there, the account, the address, phone number and the number of samples and SKU are already chosen by the salesperson. It took the same amount of time as they would have to write the email (probably less), but the fulfillment is four times as efficient.
- Shipping Integration. This one took us a while, but we finally pulled the trigger on it. Logging in to a separate server to set up pickups and print shipping labels was a huge time suck, so we integrated the shipping module into our database and now we can not only print and fulfill requests through the database, we can see shipments and tracking information within the account and contact records. Note: If you get preferred shipping rates make sure these transfer through any shipping integration that you do.
We are going to keep building on our database and adding more functionality. It drives our business and our success. It makes the employees feel organized and under control, and it makes the executives feel like they have the proper oversight and insight. The building materials world is late to the game in a lot of technical realms, but a database is not one to be missed. It will likely drive your business for years to come.