How's business these days? If the simple answer to that question is anything but "fantastic" or "great," it's time to take a serious look at your marketing program. Here we are halfway through the calendar year, well into the dog days of summer. And if your business has posted nearly flat or just slightly increased sales in the first two quarters, making some swift changes now can help you see dramatic improvement before year's end. Even if you own a seasonal retail business and earn a large percentage of your income during the holiday season, can you really afford to sit by and pin all your hopes on blockbuster holiday sales?

In the more than 25 years I've been helping businesses grow, I've found one truth to be absolute: The most successful companies create and diligently pursue an integrated year-round program that addresses all their prospects and customers. How does this result in increased sales?

  • An "integrated" program marries sales with marketing. In fact, all marketing functions-from advertising and public relations through direct marketing and production of collateral materials-exist to support the sales effort. Your sales team must rely on strategies and tactics that increase awareness of your brand or company and its products and services as well as tools and materials that motivate prospects. For this support to be at its most valuable, and to minimize financial losses due to off-target campaigns and leads, there must be a continual exchange of information and ideas between sales and marketing. Salespeople should keep the marketing team current on the quality of leads, customer feedback and competitive information. And it's marketing's job to take this information and create tools that work, as well as integrated marketing messages that function across a variety of sales channels.

Customers who shop through more than one channel, such as by catalog, online and in-store, shop more frequently and spend more-as much as three times more-than customers who shop via a single channel alone. The key is to provide the same high-quality merchandise, customer support, pricing and special promotions across all channels. So you can increase sales by offering customers the convenience of more than one sales channel and build repeat sales by integrating your marketing messages to ensure customers enjoy a consistently positive experience with your company or brand.

  • Marketing in fits and starts is guaranteed to torpedo your company's efforts. For one thing, it causes financial peaks and valleys, which can be difficult to struggle through. Meanwhile, customers and prospects have very short memories and will choose to buy from or work with the companies-your competitors-that consistently ask for their business.

A continuous, year-round marketing program that reaches out to a full range of prospects is essential to long-term success. At any given time, you have prospects in all stages of your sales cycle, from some who are barely familiar with your products and services to others who are ready to buy. An effective ongoing program employs tactics that reach out to prospects at all these stages and helps move them to the next level in the sales process.

Choosing just the right group of tactics can be challenging. When coaching small-business clients, we begin by looking at two basic elements: the available budget and the amount of time they or their staffs have to spend on marketing. You don't have to sacrifice using a range of tactics to reach your prospects just because your budget may be small. Instead, the trick is to choose tactics that allow you to attain your sales goals within the budget that's affordable and appropriate for your company-even if those tactics take longer or more staff time to implement.

  • If you truly want to increase sales in the next six months, create a dedicated program to upsell current customers. In the rush to win new prospects, entrepreneurs often overlook the current customer or client base, yet it can cost businesses as much as five times more to win a new customer than to keep an old one. Do you have a customer loyalty program? The ones that work best motivate customers who attain the highest levels-through multiple or high-ticket purchases-with in-kind rewards.

An regularly scheduled e-mail to your opt-in list of customers is another way to consistently "touch" them in a positive way. You can alternate informative and entertaining materials, such as e-newsletters, with e-mail solicitations. And for a quick, low-cost method to stimulate sales this summer, combine e-mail with sales calls to customers. It's just one easy way you can integrate sales and marketing to turn up the heat.