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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?

Ten ways to improve your offer

Consumers have never been more careful about how they spend their money. As they keep a tight hold on their purse strings, they are looking for better products and services as well as value for money. So how can you meet their expectations?

1. Review your products

Before you decide whether to adapt your products or services, take a look at what you have. How well are you meeting the needs of existing customers? Which lines are selling well and which ought to be dropped?

2. Assess changes in your sector

Tough times inspire ingenious thinking, and there are bound to have been changes in every sector in recent years. Has technology has moved on? Have people changed their sales and marketing techniques? What new trends are emerging? Talk to customers and suppliers and subscribe to industry magazines and newsletters to find out what’s going on in your sector.

3. Consider how you might expand your existing offer

You don’t need to make wholesale changes - it may just be a matter of tweaking what you have. One option is to introduce a premium range of products or services, for example, or you could offer greater seasonal variation in what you sell.

4. Complement and diversify

Many firms have successfully scaled up by offering related products and services or by diversifying into new areas: for example, garden centres selling household furniture, building firms providing DIY training, office-based firms renting desk space to freelancers, and so on. If you plan to branch out, do your research first and don’t stray far from your area of expertise.

5. Offer added value to customers

If funds are tight, think about offering new added-value services rather than investing in fresh stock or equipment. For example, free local delivery, weekend opening, technical support, free returns or special offers exclusive to online customers won’t cost the earth, but can strengthen loyalty and improve customer satisfaction.

6. Create new partnerships

Opportunities to build new relationships often arise as markets change. Why not consider a joint venture or partnership with another business which serves a slightly different - but related - market?

7. Reconsider the way you sell and who you sell to

It may not be your product or service that is holding you back, but your approach to sales and marketing. Market pressure often inspires innovation - think about how the Nintendo Game Boy was rebranded for a more senior age group when other manufacturers introduced devices that were more appealing to the core games market. This clever move has extended its market reach and its longevity. Could your offer be repackaged for a completely new market?

8. Ask customers and suppliers what they think

Before making any proposed changes, find out whether your customers and suppliers think you’re doing the right thing. If you need more stock, equipment or services, can you work out a deal with suppliers? Does your revamped offer actually meet customers’ needs, and would they be prepared to pay for it? Have a trial period and pay attention to feedback.

9. Open up new sales channels

A key way to improve your offer without actually changing it is to make it easier and more convenient to find and to buy. If you can sell online, then do so; attend fairs and shows if appropriate; explore third party sales opportunities, such as retail outlets and even franchising; recruit a sales agent to investigate and open up new territories, including overseas. In short, explore the possibilities to reach the most customers in the most cost-effective ways.

10. Create an ongoing feedback process

However and wherever you sell, ensure your customers have the opportunity to rate and comment on the standards of your goods and services. Make sure you have a short customer satisfaction survey at the point of sale and make customers feel as comfortable as possible offering their opinion verbally. Listen and respond to feedback and use it to further improve your offer.

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