Here are five tips to consider if you're thinking about automating your customer database:

1. Pinpoint your objectives. Do you want to expand your customer base? Do you expect to double sales of a product line? Do you aim to encourage repeat business? Make sure you understand your goals before you automate. "Companies that are drawn to the technology without knowing what they want to get out of it will be very disappointed," says David Shepard of the consulting firm David Shepard Associates, in Dix Hills, N.Y.

2. Choose the software that best fits your goals. If, for instance, you need a system that is tied tightly to sales rep activity in the field, look for a contact management program with database capability. If however, you do a lot of selling over the phone, you may need a telemarketing program.

3. Determine what to include in your database. Once you decide which kinds of customers have the most potential, you should construct the database, mining everything from salespeople's contacts to lists you purchase from outside suppliers.

4. Develop a plan. Only after you define your objectives and construct your database is it time to devise a marketing program.

5. Measure results. Generate periodic status reports that detail such information as cost per contact and cost per sale. To be really careful, don't launch your program at full tilt. Start with a small prototype, and if you like what you see, expand it to include the entire database.