Small businesses are constantly trying to figure out how to increase sales at the same time be cost effective. We have all heard the saying, “It is far more cost effective to keep a customer than to get a new one.”

Consider implementing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program for your business, if you don’t already have one. CRM is a business strategy to build loyalty and sales with your best customers. Every type of business benefits from this strategy.

Your business CRM is like your garden. Think of your clients as seeds in that garden. Nurture them and they will keep bearing fruit. The cost of a little water and some nutrients is a lot less than the time it took to dig the holes and fill them with expensive seeds. Even if you do not reap the rewards by having a paying customer right now, nurturing that relationship may bear fruit, or at the minimum a referral, in the future.

Plant your garden.

Do not be tempted to use a personal database, such as Outlook. Personal databases are designed to organize your personal life, not your business.

A CRM program is a tool to help grow sales in a more cost effective way. CRM encompasses marketing, customer service, loyalty programs, ongoing communications with customers and more. There is commercial open source CRM software, such as SugarCRM, that is specifically created for enterprise. Salesforce.com is a cloud computing CRM that works well integrating a larger sales force.

Whatever program you decide on, the key is to use it. Here are a few items to consider when searching:

1. It is scalable. When you start using a CRM, there are many bells and whistles to implement. It can be overwhelming. Just set up the basics and then add features when you have a need or time available.

2. It allows multiple users. Depending on your business, you might need to have several different people access the CRM at different times from different places. By each person having a personal log-in, your business becomes more efficient.

3. It is searchable. Access to information when you need it is critical for a business owner. Being able to run reports and see precise data in an easy to digest format will allow you to make quick decisions.

4. Security of Information. Your list of customers is a very valuable commodity to your company. Being able to control the flow of information as well as access is important.

5. Email Marketing Capability. Make sure you can send emails to a targeted group inside the CRM. Email marketing is the most cost effective tool a business owner has. The only way to use it is by gathering information about your customers and potential customers.

Nurture and Feed your garden.

Properly and efficiently maintaining accurate customer records is the decisive measure of how much success your business will have.

1. Get more out of your existing customers. One of CRM’s greatest strengths is that it collects and organizes information about your customers and lets you analyze the data for future opportunities. Segment your customers by taking a look at the data on what they are currently buying from you, identify what other products or services they would benefit from buying, then develop a sales strategy to offer that product or service in an appealing way. Often this involves packaging new products or services with products your customers are already buying and offering them at an attractive price or with other incentives.

2. Identify and concentrate on your best customers. When business is slow, some customers are worth more than others. Remember, it takes a lot less money to add nutrients and water than the time it took to dig the holes and fill them with expensive seeds.

CRM systems allow you to categorize your customers. Some customers who give you business on every sales call may not be worth as much as the customer who orders infrequently but buys larger quantities of high-value products or services.

3. Keep your existing customers loyal. Customer satisfaction is keeping your promise and meeting their needs. CRM can help you with both of these.

The most common reason for not keeping promises is forgetting you made them. If comments and notes are jotted down in the customer’s contact record, a task scheduled along with a follow up, then promises won’t be lost.

Meeting your customer’s needs includes efficient handling of after-sales contacts such as service calls, resolving customer concerns or offering the customer the right mix of products at the right prices. When meeting your customer’s needs, you are solidifying your professionalism in their mind thus creating an open-mindset for future business together.

Reap the Rewards.

Many small business owners buy a CRM because they are told they need one, or because they want to get more organized. Sometimes when researching, they will say it costs too much money and pass on the opportunity to plant, nurture and reap the rewards of more business.

The reality is the CRM does so much for your business needs if you want to grow your business significantly; have more of a personal life; less stress for you and your clients; less mistakes; better service to your clients; less costly support staff to maintain; more compliments from everyone (including vendors) you do business with; and more referrals.