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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?

Turn your customers into your best sales people

Good customer relationship management can turn happy customers into evangelists for your product or service, spreading the word and bringing in new business. Rachel Miller finds out how you can persuade satisfied customers to become flag-bearers for your business

When it comes to customer service, don't just strive for satisfaction - aim for absolute delight. That's the message from Robin Daniels of Salesforce, who says that by delighting your customers, you can turn them into effective sales people who persuade friends, family and colleagues to use your products and services.

Exceeding customer expectations can be a key point of differentiation between you and your competitors. It should boost your reputation and your revenue, and help you focus your sales efforts - because happy customers are far more likely to influence others to buy from you. In simple terms, they become the front line of your sales force.

Focus on customer retention

Creating customer evangelists doesn’t happen by accident; it starts with brilliant, customer-focused service and a commitment to customer retention.

"Customer retention is very important. What all the research tells us is that it is five times easier to sell to existing customers. You need an approach to business that focuses on retaining the clients you already have," says Daniels.

But keeping clients can be a challenge. "Every customer counts. If you're a small company with a few high-value clients, then if you’re not servicing them in the right way, you’re in danger of losing them. It's very easy to switch suppliers. If you’re not nurturing your existing customers, then what’s to stop them going elsewhere?"

Understanding your customers

It’s easy to talk about customer retention, less so to put your finger on what will generate repeat sales. If it starts with good service, then what underpins that?

For Daniels, the answer is knowledge. "It's important to get closer to your customer," says Daniels. "You have to keep your finger on the pulse of what your customers are doing. You need to know things like when they last bought from you, when they are up for renewal or who are the highest spenders."

The chances are that you have a pretty good idea what your customers' needs are and when they are likely to buy from you. But the more customers you have, the more information you need to keep hold of.

The importance of customer relationship management

Keeping good records - whether using Excel, Google spreadsheets or a customer relationship management (CRM) system - will enable you and your team to keep track of your customers.

If you’re trying to keep track of more than a handful of customers and potential customers, or to share information with employees across the business, dedicated CRM software is likely to be the best option. As well as making it easy to record what you know, the best CRM software can offer tools to help you understand your customers better, identify new leads, automate marketing mailshots and so on.

"A decent CRM system is the foundation stone of a successful business," says Mark Sinclair, founder of yourBusinessChannel.

"When you have so many different relationships - with suppliers, clients, prospects - you simply cannot remember everything," he says. "Ideally you need to track all of your calls, meeting notes, emails and decisions.

"What proper CRM software gives you is extraordinary visibility - you can see exactly what's going on and what your colleagues have said to people," Sinclair adds. "It also enables you to grade your prospects from warm to hot, and generate useful, real-time reports, which means you can see easily where the sales opportunities are."