Database:  Who has time to update that behemoth, and why should we? 

"Our database of clients and contacts is so out of date, I'm not sure who uses it any longer.  Clients move, key contacts change jobs - our vendors may be the most up to date group on the list.   Most of us use our cell phones anyway."

Why should your Contact Database be an active piece of your Business Development and Marketing plan?  As most use them, they are the record of who liked you enough to pay your firm for service and include not only the main contractual contacts but sometimes the many others on a given job that lent a hand with IT, HR, or Facilities.  The project consultants of engineering, design, furniture, construction, AV and IT are likely in that database as well.   And you are correct in assuming that all these connections move around as their careers ebb and flow along with the general business climate.  Included in most databases are also vendors to your firm like landlord, utilities, your phone, IT and AV folks and many more.  Here's why this should be valuable to you:

  1. Former clients - With estimated cost to acquire a new client at 5X the cost to retain a former or existing client, why not?  They liked you once and may be inclined to use you again in the future, especially if they feel like you still have an interest in their business and the work you did.  Keep up with their professional activities, who moved where and what are they doing now.  Express your interest in their personal careers as well as the work you did together.
  2. Current clients - there is no one more important than someone who is currently writing checks to your firm.  But genuine interest goes beyond paying your invoice.  Explore their corporate cultural and community interests and support them in return.
  3. Consultants - typical project work includeslots of collaboration and close work together and builds terrific relationships and can lead to new referrals.  We hire our consultants because they treat us and our clients very well.  Make them a part of your program and notice how it extends the power of your marketing.
  4. Vendors - recognizing that vendors are people just like you, not in your field but who connect with many others outside of your circle and may be an influencer or possible referral source if nurtured. My favorite treat is to "take a vendor to lunch" to cement the human and personal side of the relationship and discover how your circles of influence may cross even deeper. 
  5. Employees - often this is your lifeblood, your delivery team.  They spend many hours helping you please your clients and often have surprising relationships with clients.  Including staff in your marketing material distribution is the first step to engaging in your marketing.  Pride of authorship and involvement is a powerful motivator.

Maintaining a current database, tagging or categorizing as appropriate can provide you a way to do very specific and targeted marketing.  Of course it works for the "tell everyone" communications but it's nice to be able to single out clients on specific type of work.  Letters, emails, eBlasts, updates that continue the positive feelings and good will of a recent project can be invaluable in eliminating "buyers remorse" and in securing future referrals.  Since so many A/E/C firms are small to middle sized, I am not a proponent of CRM systems believing that the more complex the system the less likely it is to be maintained unless there is a specified and accountable person - so much can be done with simple Outlook, that so many use anyway. Simple is good.

This topic spurs as many concerns as it does revelations.  I want to show you how to elevate your contact database into a powerful selectable source for targeted marketing in support of your active business development.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting providing Business Development and Marketing Guidance and to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years. Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas: Entrepreneurship, Business Development and Marketing. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Leadership Council. Check him out at .