There is no doubt 2009 was a tough year. But we must put that behind us and move forward. I recommend we emphasize the following 10 things:

1. Make the Customer Feel Welcome. What do your people sound like when on the phone with the customer? Does your front door have a Chamber of Commerce sticker from 1972? Are your desks and office environment warm and welcoming? How professional are your quotes and cover letter? (Do you even have a cover letter for quotes? If you would like a great sample that I received from a roofing company, e-mail me at [email protected].)

2. Follow-Up Phone Calls From Management. Flip through your delivery tickets each morning and call five people who bought from you the day before. Ask questions about the timeliness of the delivery. Ask if it shipped in full. Then ask: "Can you offer us any advice on our next delivery?" Pause and wait for a response. You will find out many more things about your business and your competitors' businesses by listening. You'll uncover positive and negative events that won't surface in a sales meeting. But don't wait for your customers to come to you. Call them.

3. Stop the Rat-Race and Focus on Profit. Rank your monthly commitments from 1 to 10 and take out the ones that are adding no value to your business and community. When you get invitations for events, think twice. You can't focus on profit if you don't first focus on where you are and who you run with.

4. Answer the Phone. People call because you have products and services that they need. If you do not answer your phone, they are going to call your competitors. Make it easy for your customer to contact you.

5. Filter Your Own Calls. That is, take every call. When you do not want to speak to a person because it is not business-related or will add no value to the bottom line, use lines like "Thanks for calling, please send us something via e-mail or snail mail and if we think this is right for us, we will contact you."

6. Spend More Quality Time with Customers. Seize the opportunity to go fishing, hunting, or play golf with a customer. How many more deals have we closed at such outings than we have in the lumberyard?

7. Vendors are Key. We too often beat up our vendors over price and service. Without vendors, we wouldn't be in business. Look at your top 10 vendors in 2009 and write them at least a three-sentence thank-you note. You will invest about one hour in this exercise. You might be surprised by what they will do for you next.

8. Stop Throwing Darts. Too often it is easy to cold-call prospects, then have nothing to say other than "We have great price, service, and quality." Have you ever tried to make a sales call and deliver no information, but rather ask questions? Have you ever listened to those answers and made a follow-up call with well researched answers and promises that your company can keep? Try it. You will be amazed.

9. Read at Least One Sales Book This Year. I recommend two easy reads: Bill Lee's Gross Margin: 26 Factors Affecting Your Bottom Line, and Chris Lytle's The Accidental Salesperson. Bill's book discusses sales techniques and dealing with objections. Chris' book deals with preparing for a sales call and how he survived and became successful without the training that you should have as a salesperson.

10. Arrive at Work 30 Minutes Early. There is absolutely no reason to arrive at work on time, much less arrive late. How can you play the game if you are not in uniform and ready before the game or game day starts? I have never met a successful salesperson, business owner or manager that arrived at work late, or even on time.

I hope that each and every one of you reading this column can have a profitable 2010. Start now and get back to the basics. Get closer with your customers and vendors and listen. Listen for opportunities to make a difference in your business and the community. Think, sleep, dream, and exercise profits.

Chris Rader is a consultant based in Lafayette, La. He writes the "Rader's Edge" column for Contact him at [email protected].