Although you could reinvent any part of your business, changes to marketing are often one of the most powerful and quickest ways to boost profits.

That being said, I want to add a slight note of caution. If you have a poor business strategy or the quality of your products or services is below average, then you really don’t want to spend lots of energy and effort and money further promoting them. In fact, it could be worse than just wasting money, because later if you eventually improve your strategy and/or the quality of your products or services it could be more difficult to reposition your business and get attention.

That caveat aside, there are usually ways that small businesses can dramatically improve the impact and efficiency of their marketing and sales effort. But it isn’t always easy to find them.

Totally Nail Down What Makes You Different from Your Competitors

Ideally, if you are reevaluating your marketing and sales you have the time to think about the big picture. What makes you different from the competition? That’s basically your business strategy. Then ask what makes you stand out to your customers in a way that you can capture in a few snappy words.

That should be your USP, or your Unique Selling Proposition, which I have talked about in more depth in other presentations. How good is your USP? If it’s great, fine—don’t change it! I see businesses change great USPs all the time. Why? Could be the entrepreneur gets tired of it. Could be a new advertising agency wants to change it to help justify their fees. Good USPs are hard to come by. Spend lots of energy with it, but if you have a great one, don’t change it.

Ask Yourself Some Hard Questions about Your Marketing

Do have a compelling offer for new customers? Have you tested an alternative offer recently? Sometimes the market gets tired of a particular offer or maybe a competitor makes another offer that dilutes it. It’s hard to get new customers. You have to not just attract them to your business but also lure them away from whomever they are currently doing business with.

Tiresome and time-consuming and sometimes awkward as testing and tracking results may seem, you need to do it. You need to test strategies, test Unique Selling Propositions, test new customer offers, test media.

You should ask every new customer how he or she heard about your business. I know you’re probably thinking, “There goes Bob again on his ‘high horse’ advice that sounds great but is ridiculous to implement in the real world!” Okay, if you don’t want to ask every customer, then maybe ask every customer on one day per month—at least get some systematic kind of feedback.

What about your choices of advertising media? I think a well-run business should generally devote most of its budget to proven media that has been shown to deliver in the past and spend small amounts, bits and pieces, testing new media in minor quantities. If the results warrant it, then start making bigger changes.

What about email and database marketing to current or past customers? Even if you have a business that only makes sales to customers once in a lifetime, it is incredibly important to market to these customers again to get them to talk you up and to send referrals your way. Do you have a referral program? Spending money for referrals may prove a lot cheaper than you think. A roofing service we recently used sent us a free certificate for dinner a few months after we used their service and simply asked us to keep them in mind if someone we knew needed roofing work done.

What about social media—Facebook and the like? Do you update posts there? Do you know whether is working for you? Do you spend enough time on this? Is it worth spending some time to think about this? Even though there may not be direct monetary costs involved, time is money and energy.

What about your website? Do you think you could call it an effective selling machine? If not, you should view my presentation about how to turn your website into a selling machine. Every business should have a great-looking website, but not necessarily a highly complex website.

How responsive are you to queries from prospective new customers? Well-run larger businesses tend to track this carefully. Do you have a policy for how quickly you respond to emails and phone calls from potential customers? Do you have a policy for how quickly you provide quotes?

Thinking about marketing is to consider it from the customer’s perspective. Does your marketing target the right potential customers? Does it catch them with a message that they feel is compelling?

What about sales? Do you have an effective sales force? Is it average, good, or great? Maybe the sales force is just you the owner and you don’t feel you are closing as many sales as you should be. Maybe you should brush up on your sales techniques. Maybe you can add a part-time telemarketer to supplement your sales efforts. Maybe your sales efforts could have better support material on your website.

Every marketing and sales situation—just like every business—is unique. So try to think through where changes to your marketing and sales efforts might make the most difference. It could be that you need to start with just gathering information to get a better idea of what is working and what is not. Not to worry, many small businesses don’t do this well. But if you do, if you really and truly track the results of your various marketing efforts, you will be that much ahead of the game and well positioned to test some new approaches. Remember the operative word is “test,” not dive into, a new marketing approach. Save the big money until it has first worked well with small amounts of money.

I know this all sounds like it is tedious and a lot of work, but you know what? I love marketing—I find it incredibly fun to create clever slogans and attractive ads and messages, and the more fun you find marketing to be, the better you will become at it, too!

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Take a hard look at your customer engagement.
  • Ask yourself key questions about your marketing strategy.
  • Think deeply about every aspect of your marketing.
  • Test and get feedback where it makes the biggest difference.
  • Don’t change just for the sake of it—if it’s working, leave it alone.