Client database – valuable yet neglected

Oct 21, 2016

Your firm’s list of contacts is critical to your marketing activity, and it can have a tremendous monetary value, too, so make it a priority.

This industry is still doing a poor job of building and maintaining a good client database, also known as CRM, or Client Relationship Management. We see it all the time when we are working inside firms. Furthermore, our research shows that the average A/E firm’s database equates to 40 names per employee. That is horrendously low. Just think about the number of work-related contacts in your mobile phone and how that would affect the number you could claim as your contacts. I often stress the importance of making the distinction between marketing and sales for the purpose of measuring return on investment. The client database is clearly a critical marketing function that requires investment. Your client database is essential for many of your marketing activities so it’s time we start acting like it.

Here are a few suggestions to inspire some changes in your client data management policy:

  • Less is more. Consider tying your CRM into your financial management software. Fewer databases is better. I am shocked at the number of firms that have three or more. Consider the inefficiencies and inaccuracies created by multiple sources of client information. We don’t dedicate enough resources to adequately keep up with one database, let alone two or more. Firms have more options than ever for client data management. You can buy an all-inclusive product or you can even tie in multiple databases using scripts or apps.
  • View it as an asset. Your client database is an asset that actually has a monetary value. The more you invest in it, the more it’s worth. You realize this value in being able to better market your services, which in turn drives growth in the enterprise. You can also realize a nice return in the form of cash if you were to sell your firm to the outside. In a transaction, a buyer is going to consider a great client database as one of your most valuable assets. For those of you who view marketing as nothing more than an overhead expense, maybe this will motivate you to start investing there.
  • It will grow your firm. Investment in the database should include both adding names and keeping the data accurate. A constant commitment to data integrity allows you to be more tactical and effective in your marketing. As such, you can increase the dollars spent on marketing with more confidence. Our research consistently shows that firms that spend more on marketing than others are more profitable and grow faster.

Once you commit to improving your client database and getting more out of it, consider making these items a part of the strategy:

  • Share the database companywide. Allow all employees access to client info. That does not mean you have to give everyone editing rights.
  • Assign one person to be in charge of the database. Make this person accountable for the data integrity, training people how to use the platform, and building the database.
  • Mine the data you already have. The widespread use of Microsoft Outlook means that many employees have work contacts in their phones and computers that need to be integrated into the company database. There are programs that can mine the contacts out of Outlook and put them in your main company database. Some of these can intelligently separate personal contacts from business contacts. Also consider integrating other places in the firm that house client data.
  • Use the database more in marketing. Have your marketing staff think of new ways to connect with your clients using the database. Newsletters, targeted white papers, and other information can better connect your clients to your company.

The quality of your database is a reflection of your brand. You cannot preach that you know your clients and take care of all their needs while mailing them a newsletter that has their name spelled wrong or the title they held before their last promotion. Even worse, sending mail or email to deceased contacts or the spouses of deceased contacts is not something any of us want to be associated with. Unfortunately, these kinds of things are happening everyday in firms everywhere. Your client database either works for you or against you. Start viewing your database like the valuable asset it is and make the investments needed to get the most out of it!

Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.