With February 29th the traditional time for an unusual marriage proposal, we’ve got one of our own.

Many marketing specialists see themselves as the incisive, statistics-led brains of the operation and sales folk as the sometimes truculent operatives who won’t do as they’re told. Meanwhile, ask a salesperson for their opinion and they will tell you that they do the hard work which keeps a business alive, while marketers mainly play around doing fancy designs.

If you’re a small business, you’ll know better than anyone that you have to wear both the sales and marketing hats, and that they both matter equally to the business. The fact is, marketing and sales are parts of a seamless continuum which starts with an empty sales pipeline and ideally ends with a bulging order book and some repeat clients to boot.

So, can opposites attract? Can love blossom between these intractable rivals? We think so. Luckily, there is a first-class matchmaker to bring your sales and marketing efforts together. It’s called customer relationship management or CRM for short, and Microsoft offers you several options.

Business Contact Manager (BCM) is an enhancement to Microsoft Outlook which comes free with Microsoft Office 2010 Professional edition, or as a low-cost add-on to the standard edition. It’s a simpler version of more advanced tools, uses the familiar interface of Outlook, and is an ideal starting point for CRM novices.

For power-users with an eye on budgets, there’s also Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, a fully-featured end-to-end CRM system from under £30 per user per month.

So, what will CRM do for you? Here are our top ten ways to apply CRM to your business.

  1. Cue you or your salespeople to make calls: Outlook can look after all your contacts. But who’s going to tell you it’s time to give them another call? CRM will prompt anyone in the sales process to make contact at the appropriate time, and with all the right information to hand.
  2. Handle pre and post sales enquiries: When clients get in touch, whether it’s before the sale or in search of support and answers, who keeps track of all those phone calls? CRM will tell you who’s who, what they’ve bought, and will record what they want with each contact they make.
  3. Prevent over-selling or other embarrassment: There’s nothing worse than customers getting endless calls from your company, or feeling unloved when they call you. Great service demands all your people having client information at their fingertips. CRM eliminates foot-in-mouth embarrassment.
  4. Categorise and segment your customers: To make more money, it’s a great idea to tailor your offers to each individual buyer. With CRM, you can record both the purchases and preferences of your customers, and then target offers directly at clients when they’re perfectly primed to buy.
  5. Build relationships: CRM allows you to cement your client relationships over time. Unlock smart marketing ideas like rewards schemes, coupons and discounts.
  6. Forecast sales prospects for better fiscal planning: CRM also plays a key management role in a business. With better visibility of your sales pipeline and a clear understanding of the timescales associated with the sales process, you can make reliable predictions about your cashflow. Know your sales and you’ll know what tomorrow’s bank account will look like.
  7. Identify client value: CRM analytics also give you the full history of customers and their purchases. That means you can assign a business value to each client, spotting the winners from the timewasters. You’ll identify the customers who demand too much effort for too little return, and also the low-hassle but high-value customers who are the bread-and-butter business you don’t want to lose. You’ll also spot clusters of purchasing activity which will help you target marketing activity more effectively.
  8. Track leads and referrals: By asking where new customers have come from (the web, advertising campaigns, passing trade, etc.) you can assess your marketing spend to work out which methods are yielding great results, and which are a waste of time.
  9. Get all your paperwork together: Clients generate endless paperwork. It can’t be helped. But it can be organised. CRM puts your contact details, appointments, job cards, emails, invoicing information and all the other documents it takes to do the job all in one place.
  10. Stay on the right side of the law: Finally, CRM is a simple way to add rigour to your reporting and accountability processes. A by-product of the record-keeping in your sales activities, CRM gives you an audit trail which will be invaluable in ticking compliance boxes.