Recent B2B columns addressed the topic of how to analyze the true size of a business’s potential marketplace, particularly a business-to-business venture. It was suggested that review of updated population statistics and study of a commercial business database were good starting points. But then what?

After you discover there are 10,375 separate business sites in the greater Olympia area and 26,306 in Tacoma’s metropolitan area—essentially all of Pierce County—or 3,972 in Lewis County, how do you go about identifying which ones will be good potential customers for your firm?

Experts tell you to begin with a review of your existing customers to identify any common characteristics that might point you toward potential prospects with similar traits. What these experts also are telling you is that while you’re looking for common characteristics among existing customers, try to uncover ways you can meet even more of their needs. It’s always easier—and generally more profitable—to expand trade within current relationships than to develop entirely new ones.

Look into buyers who have drifted away, asking why they left and how you can re-earn their business.

Mary Lou Roberts observed in Journal of Direct Marketing: “Databased marketing is application of statistical analysis and modeling techniques to computerized, individual-level data sets. It implies planned communication with individually targeted customers and prospects over an extended period of time to promote repeat purchases of related goods and services.”

Your B2B database marketing involves a study of all your customer transactions to capture the memory of what makes them—both the customers and the transactions—unique. In his book, “Rethinking Business to Business Marketing,” Paul Sherlock observes that a database puts you in “a meaningful, valuable dialogue with the customer that helps you return to the personal relationship marketing that has for centuries, described successful sales.”

Sherlock’s book provides great ideas for designing, then filling and using your own database, whether it is maintained manually or is computer-assisted. While fast computers and new software programs may be essential to help you manage the database, this is not a technology issue. It is a process for handling information about your most important asset—your customers, whether past, current or future.

The information in your database is powerful for research to find more buyers, in planning how to use its insights to meet more customer needs, to support and leverage your field sales team, your dealer channels or your direct sales. You can also expect to improve productivity, acquire and assimilate new customers while you cultivate ones and even reactivate former buyers.

But always remember: Regardless of how much “data” you accumulate, it’s about people, not things.

“People forget they’re marketing to a person and think they’re marketing to a chair,” says Carol Worthington Levy of MS Database Marketing.

Lorrie LiBrizzi, director of customer insight for a national B2B marketing consulting firm puts that message a little differently: “B2B buyers are individuals and should be marketed to accordingly. The fundamental difference is they buy on behalf of the organization.”

As stewards of the organization’s resources, they usually are more concerned with satisfying the needs of others in the business than with their personal needs, she says. If it’s a large organization, the decision-making process becomes more complicated, as do your efforts to deliver your selling messages to the critical point.

It may seem self-serving for the publisher of a business publication, which sells advertising, to suggest that a B2B medium is one of the best avenues for doing precisely that, but it’s a fact.

LiBrizzi notes that too often the tendency is to focus on short-term results measured by quantitative results such as revenue and response rates. Though these are important, she contends, they can lead to poor decisions.

Consider monitoring process markers, she says. Process markers could be the number of complete buyer groups in your database, how they are moving through the cycle and response rates.

And beware of hype that suggests database marketing is the same thing as marketing strategy. Even the best database can’t transform your company into a customer-driven organization.

What it can do is support the customer-driven initiatives that you put in place. But first you must make the commitment to information-based marketing and focus on a customer-centric strategy.

Building a relationship with your customers not only is good business, it’s a crucial business practice, according to Maysel R. McGown, director of new business development at LCS Direct Marketing Services, a New Jersey-based firm.

“It requires a commitment on your part to deliver quality service, product, pricing and support,” she adds. “It means that your entire organization participates.”

A good database helps accomplish precisely that by providing the right information to the right people at the right time.

By Jeff Rounce, Business Examiner staff