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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?

Marketing strategy

A marketing plan sets out how you are going to put your marketing strategy into practice. The marketing plan ensures that everyone in the business knows what you are trying to do and what they need to do to make it happen.

Include objectives, budgets and deadlines

An effective marketing plan should set clear objectives that will help you towards your longer-term strategic goals. Where your marketing strategy includes targeting a particular customer segment, for example, your marketing plan should have specific, measurable objectives for helping you achieve this, such as increasing sales by a target percentage. Setting deadlines and agreeing marketing budgets to work with helps you focus on your priorities and commit to achieving them.

You should make sales forecasts and targets a key part of your marketing plan, and feed them into your overall business plan. But other performance measures could be just as important. For example, you might set targets for numbers of enquiries, numbers of new customers, average transaction value, and so on. Or you might simply want to maintain positive cash flow.

You can choose targets like these to reflect your strategic goals. They can also help you identify where your marketing is - and isn't - working; for example, if you're getting lots of enquiries that don’t convert to sales.

Planning your marketing

Your day-to-day business marketing activities are likely to focus on communicating with existing and potential customers. Your marketing plan should set out when and how you will do this.

Start building a schedule by identifying key times of the year - for example, when business customers plan the next year's budget, or seasonal purchasing peaks (such as Christmas). Time your marketing campaigns to fit with these dates and look for other opportunities, such as trade exhibitions, that you can take advantage of.

If there are significant gaps in your marketing schedule, fill them out with cost-effective activities to help maintain customer awareness. You might send out a newsletter, for example.

If you rely heavily on a fairly small number of important customers, consider developing individual account management plans for them. Rather than mailshots and other forms of general marketing communications, key accounts merit regular phone calls, meetings, business entertainment, and so on.

The marketing mix

As well as marketing communications, your marketing plan should span the full mix of marketing activities. Developing new products and building your distribution network might be important parts of your strategy, for example. You'll also need to plan carefully for any price increases or tactical moves such as an end-of-season sale.

You might also want to strengthen your marketing capabilities. Note in your marketing plan whether you intend to give staff sales training or introduce new customer relationship management (CRM) technology. Maybe you need to introduce more efficient systems or measure customer satisfaction. Including activities like these in your marketing plan helps ensure they're identified as priorities and that you dedicate time and money to them.