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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 to deliver first-class customer service

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, so treating them well should always be a priority. By regularly exceeding expectations, you can boost customer satisfaction and retention. We explain how you can go beyond your customers' expectations

Exceeding customer expectations should start at the enquiry stage and be maintained throughout your business relationship. The benefits can be substantial - boosting your reputation and leading to referrals.

Better than the competition?

Distinguishing your firm from competitors at the enquiry stage is vital. "Businesses like John Lewis, that are known for their high levels of customer service, treat everyone the same, whether they spend £1 or £1,000, and that is one of their strengths," says Edwina Hughes, director of Eddy and Co.

A swift response is always impressive, but so is correctly establishing what the customer actually wants and why. People appreciate a personal service. Follow up on what you say you'll do and keep in touch to provide regular updates. Make the most of the personal services you can offer and you will reap the rewards.

Even at this early stage you should aim to exceed expectations. For example, if you've said you'll respond with more information within 24 hours, try and answer more quickly.

Maintain regular customer contact

Staying close to customers gives you the opportunity to develop relationships, to further demonstrate your expertise and increase confidence in you and your business.

Small firms have the advantage of providing personal contact, usually with the same person. Get to know customers' names, find out about their interests and ask them how they are getting on. "It's worth spending some time understanding the client so you can provide a more tailored solution," says Hughes.

Once you have completed a job or have made a sale, ask satisfied customers to tell other people about your business, but don't be too pushy.

Monitoring your customer service allows you to see what has worked and what hasn't. Unless you track it, you won't know where you need to focus your efforts to improve.

Good service standards

You need to provide a high standard of good customer service if you want to retain customers and win new ones. Small firms are in a great position to compete with larger companies on customer service. They usually have the flexibility to go the extra mile to make customers and potential customers feel valued.

Consider giving your best customers a named contact if they have any queries, or calling them to let them know about a new range of products or a sale preview. "You could also consider rewarding them with a discount voucher or by inviting them to a special event for VIP customers. It shows that you appreciate their loyalty," says Hughes.

And remember, if dealing with a complaint from an existing customer, don't panic. Make sure they know you will sort it out. Go away, do some research, get back to them and say you will give them a result. If handled correctly, a complaining customer can become one of your biggest fans. "Some of the best business relationships are ones that start with problems," says Hughes.

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