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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

Customer care

Understanding customers is the key to giving them good service. To give good customer care you must deliver what you promise. But great customer care involves getting to know your customers so well that you can anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations.

To understand your customers well, you need to be attentive to them whenever you are in contact with them. The potential rewards are great: you can increase customer loyalty and bring in new business through positive word-of-mouth recommendation.

There are three main ways to understand your customers better. One is to put yourself in their shoes and try and look at your business from their point of view. The second way is to collect and analyse data in order to shed light on their buying behaviour. The third way is simply to ask them what they think.

Put yourself in your customers' shoes

Understanding customers requires you to take a hard look at the points at which your customers have contact with your business. These include meetings and visits, phone calls, correspondence and deliveries. Do your premises look scruffy, is your receptionist unfriendly or do your phones ring and ring without being answered? All these things can make a customer feel disappointed.

The most common customer complaint is being kept waiting. If you're slow to return calls or fulfil orders, then you're in danger of losing customers. Above all, customers want you to deliver what you have promised and surpass their expectations.

As a small business, you can offer a personal service. If you remember a customer's name and recall your last conversation with them, you will have brightened up their day. They will also tell their friends what a great service you provide.

Understanding your customers and improving your service must be a priority throughout your business. Everyone from the front desk to the delivery staff should focus on exceeding customer expectations.

Using data to understand your customers

Your database or customer relationship management system (CRM) holds valuable information about your customers that will help you to understand their needs.

Investigate the data you hold on your customers, it can tell you a lot. Look for patterns so you can see when your customers typically make orders. You can also use the data to analyse your performance. Check how quickly you're responding to orders or delivering goods.

CRM systems are more sophisticated than simple mailing lists. Because they hold information about customer behaviour and preferences they can improve customer satisfaction and retention. They can help you to identify customer needs more effectively, allowing you to up-sell and cross-sell, increasing profitability.

Ask your customers what they think

Conduct a customer satisfaction survey and you will make your customers feel valued. You will also gain valuable insights. But don't ask for feedback if you're not prepared to make changes. When you do make improvements, tell your customers what you have done as a result of their feedback.

Customer surveys can tell you things you may not know, including human factors such as staff behaviour. Not everyone complains when they are dissatisfied. Instead, they tell their friends about their bad experience and take their business elsewhere. Unless you proactively consult your customers, you may never discover where you are going wrong.

As well as asking for feedback, set up a customer contact programme to ensure you keep in touch with your clients. A good customer contact strategy will allow you to listen to your customers and tell them more about what you offer.