Tracking your customers’ information and effectively using it to earn new or repeat business can get cumbersome as onetime clients fade away and new leads mount over time. A well-honed customer database can help you organize your data and allow you to streamline your marketing efforts, analyze buying habits and create company growth. There are a number of important questions to consider when creating a customer database:- What solution will you use to track customer information?- What details do you want to track?- How will you grow and manage your database?- How will you use your database to help grow your business?Database solutionsThink of your database as a limitless Rolodex with the ability to store an abundance of information. But unlike an old-school Rolodex, databases are now stowed either through a software application or a Web-based service. A computer-based solution allows you to sort and zero in on the data that will be most useful to growing your business.You don't have to be an information technology expert to set up a database if you choose user-friendly database software. User-friendly database platforms such as Microsoft Access let you import contacts via e-mail forms or external applications. Access can produce detailed reports that enable you to analyze customer data.Alternatively, you can store your customer information online with a cloud computing solution such as Microsoft CRM Online or salesforce.com. While online database services charge a monthly fee, they allow you to store and access the data anytime, from anywhere. Businesses that have storefront and online stores are managing a common customer database and are using cross-promotional efforts to grow both sides of the business. Software that can assist small businesses with these dual efforts as well as retail or e-tail only businesses include Retail TouchPoints, Microsoft Dynamics RMS and HP’s Small and Medium Business Solutions.Information worth notingThe next step in creating a customer database is determining which data you would like to record. There are, of course, some essential details for communication and marketing purposes: first and last name, e-mail address, home address and telephone numbers. Depending on your industry or marketing plan, you might also ask how your customers heard about your company, what they purchased, and what their birthday is. In this day and age, you might also ask for their Twitter handle or permission to add them as your Facebook friend to develop your online network.Assure your customers of the security of your database; let them know that if they choose to divulge private information, such as address and phone number, then their privacy will be respected. You also want to avoid asking for sensitive information — such as credit card numbers or ethnicity — because customers might question your intentions and distrust your business.Database growth and managementKnowledge about your current and prospective clientele is a powerful tool that you can use to evaluate your success, determine necessary improvements and keep in touch with anyone who might support your business.Capture data everywhere — from random leads to faithful customers. Offer the customer a chance to enroll at every interaction point, including in-person comment cards and e-mail and Web sign-up links. It’s also important to gather details from social media networks to bulk up your marketing reach.Leveraging customer informationOnce you’ve amassed a heap of valuable customer data, the final critical step is to use that information to your advantage. Of course, the reports produced by your database software or service can help inform your purchasing decisions and perhaps dictate where to invest any advertising dollars.To truly leverage your database, however, use the information for a detailed grassroots marketing campaign. Distribute news or coupons regularly to keep your clientele engaged. Customer loyalty cards can be used online or in the store. Send birthday cards to clients and offer them a discount for coming in the week of their birthday. Every time a customer makes a purchase, follow up with a “thank you” call or e-mail to show your appreciation. And connect with customers through blogs, tweet exchanges or Facebook messages. In order to coordinate a successful outreach program, it’s vital to continuously update and use your customer database.