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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?

How small firms can get real results with CRM

Small businesses can reap huge benefits from customer relationship management (CRM) systems that are quick and easy to use, and deliver results fast. Rachel Miller finds out what CRM can do for SMEs

With any business IT system, there's always a trade-off - how much time and effort do you have to put into it, compared to how much value it delivers? For small firms, the right CRM system can deliver good results in terms of improved customer loyalty, better marketing insights and ultimately an increase in sales, while still being simple to use.

"You've got to be realistic," says Dee Blick, author of The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Book. "You need a robust database and you need to be able to interrogate it. But as a small business, you can't spend your entire time analysing your data."

Blick is a chartered marketer and author; she works with many small businesses helping them to get more out of their marketing. She says: "If firms haven't got a CRM system, it is very difficult to do a joined-up marketing strategy with them."

What is CRM?

A CRM system helps your business manage its customer relationships. It stores information about every interaction you’ve had with them, across all channels - helping you build a complete picture of their needs, intentions and history.

All the data associated with a customer is stored in a central location - preferably in the cloud - so that everyone in the business can access it when needed. This means you can provide better, more personal service, as well as giving you a clear sense of where a customer is in the sales funnel.

Getting to know your customers - how to segment

CRM is not just an optional extra - it's the best way to run your business. But whether you start with a paper-based records approach or use CRM software, you need to focus on customer relationship management if you want to maximise sales and grow your business.

"Small businesses need to know who their customers are," says Blick. "You need to know how many customers you have, who they are and when the last transaction was. You also need to define how ‘live' they are. Some of your customers could have lapsed and you may not even know it."

It's important to define different types of customers, says Blick. "You've got to be able to spot high-value and low-value customers, the trundlers and the lapsed customers. Keep it simple. Lapsed customers could be those that haven't bought for six months."

You'll also need a definition for your best customers - whether they're the biggest spenders, the most frequent customers or they offer the greatest revenue potential. They could be prestigious names that impress other prospective customers or key influencers helping to spread the word and bring in more business.

"You need to know who your VIPs are," says Blick. "At the same time, you need to collect the names of enquirers and prospects."

Once you've decided on your customer groups, you need to ensure that the CRM system you choose can store this information and search and segment by your criteria.

You'll also need to establish that your current data records can be brought across to the new system easily, potentially from a number of different sources, and that the system you choose can "talk" to your accounting software, so you don't send marketing mailings to bad debtors, for instance.

Good housekeeping - keeping your data clean

Getting your contact information right is absolutely vital, says David Castle, data project executive for Royal Mail. "It's vital to keep your data clean and up to date.” In fact, good records management is key for complying with data protection legislation.

Castle continues, “It's easy to make assumptions and get it wrong, so you've got to find out who’s really making buying decisions. Then you can send tailor-made messages to different sectors. It doesn't matter how brilliant your message is if you are talking to the wrong people."

Using your data to target your messages

Messages need to be relevant, and need to inspire customers to act. "You need to create added value communications, such as an email welcoming new customers," suggests Blick.

Make sure your materials are creative, focused and interesting, and are specific to where your customer is in the buying journey. For example, a customer who has abandoned an online purchase could be persuaded to complete the transaction with a time-limited discount offer.

Existing customers could receive personalised offers for products or services based on their purchase history, such as ink cartridges matching the specific model of printer they bought. Meanwhile, new prospects could receive testimonials from happy customers, helping to build their trust for when they’re ready to make a purchase.

"I've worked with firms that have been banging out the same old email to customers for years," says Blick. "When I came up with a new email for one client, we got a 60% response from their lapsed customers. So it is important to ask yourself, is your communication formulaic, or is it a passionate customer-focused communication using lots of warm friendly words?"

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