From the April 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

It happens every single day: Two businesses with similar marketing budgets conduct extensive direct-mail campaigns. While one of the companies realizes only less than a 1 percent increase in sales, the other somehow manages a 20 percent increase and then turns each one of those newly acquired accounts into a loyal, repeat customer.

Why do some companies succeed brilliantly in their marketing efforts while others fail? Let's face it, many entrepreneurs have access to the same tools and resources, but the ones who succeed know how to pull them all together to make their marketing work. Here's a look at the nine elements at the heart of true marketing success:

1. Leadership: To be successful, the marketing programs your staff or agency creates must support your vision of your company's future. It's up to you, at the top of your organization, to set the tone and clearly define your goals. How can your marketing team meet your expectations if it's unclear what they are?

2. Listening: Customers will tell you what they want, need and are willing to pay for. They'll even tell you which marketing approach they prefer. You just have to ask them-and listen carefully to the answers. Whether you use focus groups, surveys, Web feedback or polls, the best marketing programs are those that are shaped and molded by customers' preferences.

3. Teamwork: Effective marketing doesn't begin and end with you and your marketing people. Everyone in the company, from the receptionist to technicians or plant workers, can produce referrals, positive PR and even sales. The key is to "enroll" your entire staff by soliciting their ideas, sharing your plans for each new marketing effort and keeping the team up-to-date on your progress.

4. Coordination: The best marketing programs can't succeed if there are barriers to sales. Anything from out-of-stock products and pricing glitches to delivery problems and uninformed personnel can stop a deal. The prerequisite for effective coordination and removal of sales barriers is open communication between all departments and individuals, so things like shortages can be anticipated and discussed, and your personnel can support rather than hinder one another.

5. Focus: Unlike major corporations, where divisions compete for their piece of the marketing pie, your growing business has the luxury of focusing intently on marketing its products and services to narrowly defined audiences. Failure to focus by taking on too many different target markets can diffuse your efforts-reducing the time and budget available to effectively penetrate each one-and sabotage your results.

6. Accountability: Just as the Great Pyramids were constructed one stone on top of the next, one successful marketing program builds on another. It all hinges on tracking and measuring your marketing results. Start by setting quantifiable goals for every program or tactic, such as to produce three new accounts in 60 days. Test and examine each marketing approach and then reproduce what works.

7. Flexibility: Successful companies respond quickly to changes in the marketplace, customer preferences and new technologies. When a marketing tactic stops working, don't wait months to make revisions. Investigate the problem and eliminate it fast!

8. Continuity: Consistent presentation of a brand name and image are essential to long-term marketing success. While strategies and tactics may change and evolve, names, logos and even slogans should be considered the bedrock on which the foundation of your company's marketing program is built.

9. Insight: Some entrepreneurs always seem to have the inside track. They evaluate the competition and forecast future trends, new products and technologies instead of just responding to today's ups and downs. Being a great marketer means staying ahead of the pack. You don't really need a crystal ball-it should just look like you use one.