I am a huge fan of organizational management, or what a very good friend of mine calls “collect and control.” In other words, collect all pertinent information on your business and accounts, and control the outcome with proper planning and excellent execution. It's a thought process that can—and should—be applied to the sales side of your business.

Last month I discussed selling as a proactive versus passive pursuit. It seems that many salespeople have fallen into the rut of waiting for business to come to them, rather than generating new business by collecting information about accounts and working to control more of their business. One of the first steps to getting out of this rut is to understand your customer base. Through my experiences and research over the years, I've found that customers fall into one of five categories:

Prospects: companies that you have identified as potential customers and would like to begin to develop relationships with.

Customers: companies with whom you do some business with, but can't really call them “loyal.”

Clients: companies who buy from you as their primary supplier, but continue to shop around.

Advocates: companies who buy from you as their primary source, and are reluctant to shop around. They recommend your company to their peers.

Partners: companies who buy solely from you and would not consider another supplier. These companies will also act as referral sources for you and will defend your business.

Try this exercise: Look at your current client list and honestly and objectively categorize each company based on the above criteria. How many do you classify as customers, clients, advocates, and partners? If you can identify where each customer falls, you can more effectively build their loyalty.

Remember this well-known quotation: “If you always do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got.” Does this summarize your current business? If your answer is no—congratulations, you are either doing something very well, or you've stumbled around enough to make things happen.

However, I'm betting that for most of you reading this right now, the answer is yes, and that you have never really taken the time to completely and objectively analyze your current business base. It's time to thoroughly scrutinize your business and decide on a course of action that will produce results different from those you've experienced in the past. Use this exercise to determine where the bulk of your business is coming from, strengthen that business, and then move each customer “up” at least one level.