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With 2004 fast approaching, it's natural to look back over what was a tough marketing year. While some entrepreneurs saw their businesses soar, others failed to take definitive marketing action and are left to debate what they should have, could have or would have done if only . . .
Were your 2003 marketing results all you'd hoped? The new year offers a clean slate. The key is to step back and look at the big picture, then adopt programs that will have the most profound effect on your bottom line. Resolve to make these six smart marketing moves:
1. Become indispensable. Entrepreneurs who communicate with customers only during specific product promotions find it harder to build repeat sales than those who create ongoing customer relationships. Do your customers consider your company a valuable resource? If not, it's time to add relationship-building tools to your marketing program, such as newsletters, more complete customer service, and online message boards.
2. Match reality with hype. Today, customers consider the "ownership experience" when making a purchase. Before buying, they want to know how and where they'll get answers to important questions; whether the product will be reliable; and what they can expect when dealing directly with your company. For effective programs in the new year, create marketing messages that detail the benefits of the complete ownership experience. And be sure you can live up to your promises. Customer attrition and failure to convert leads to sales can be linked to a company's inability to meet expectations raised by marketing.
3. Make it easy to buy. If you're not a multichannel marketer, consider using a combination of channels-such as in-store, catalog and online sales-to make it easy for your customers to buy. Multichannel shoppers enjoy making purchases by whatever methods suit them, and they'll spend more and shop more often than single-channel customers. Add new channels with consistent messaging, and follow through to maximize cross-selling opportunities.
4. Formalize your listening. Businesses that race ahead of the pack are famous for their ability to listen to customers and tailor everything, from marketing to product development, accordingly. Gaining feedback through your sales force is just the beginning. To get the information you need to meet customers' needs, formalize and structure your listening tactics to include customer surveys, informal focus groups and feedback through your Web site.
5. Collect the right data. The success of your entire marketing program depends on knowing who your customers are and what they buy. Not only does that knowledge enable you to build repeat sales, but it also supplies demographic information you need to identify your best prospects and turn them into customers. Make 2004 the year you create a comprehensive customer database. Track purchases, and segment your database accordingly so you can tailor your marketing messages and tactics to the needs and preferences of each group.
6. Keep in touch with prospects often. How often do you ask prospects for their business? If you're not maintaining ongoing communications with your prospects, chances are your competitors are making inroads. In most industries, multiple contacts with prospects are required before sales are closed. So communicate frequently using a combination of sales contacts and marketing tactics, ranging from direct mail and e-mail to advertising and public relations, to make 2004 your best year ever.