The only way to find out if your marketing is performing the way you want is to doubt everything you’re doing.

Instead of guessing, jumping from one initiative to another, hoping for the best, or taking advice without knowing how to evaluate it, start at the beginning by questioning your assumptions, your expectations, your personal preferences, and, particularly, your perceptions of what marketing should do for the company.

Just to be clear, question every marketing activity, every plan, every great idea and every recommendation. It’s the only way to move from hoping and assuming things are going well to actually getting marketing right for your company — and here’s how to do it:

1. Clear away customer roadblocks. Seemingly minor missteps drive customers crazy and then away, and the bar goes higher every day. Being put on hold for even a few seconds is never forgotten. Failing to respond promptly to an email (an hour or less) is deadly. There’s little tolerance for excuses.

One supermarket chain guarantees no more than three customers in a checkout line or the manager hands out $1.00 bills to let customers know they understand what customers expect. Starbucks and Panera have smartphone apps so customers can order and pay ahead so there’s no waiting.

When customer loyalty is more fragile than ever, you should make it easier to do business.  

2. Get the messaging right. Lou Paskalis, Bank of America’s enterprise marketing and media chief, describes the smartphone as “the gateway to the consumer mind.” Because the smartphone is personal, messaging should be, too — conversational rather than ad-like, talking to one person instead of broadcasting to many, and always with new messages. With 79 million millennials checking their smartphones 45 times a day as some studies show, texting may be preferable to emailing.

3. Make engaging customers the goal. And that means not focusing on what you want to sell.“We have just what will be right for you.” Customers once welcomed such words, being almost eager to be told what to buy. Today, the same words only antagonize. No one wants to be told what to buy.

Experienced salespeople often have an intuitive sense of what a customer is looking for; even so, keep your mouth shut if you want to make the sale. Get customers involved by asking questions, offer reliable and helpful information, and walk with them through the process at their pace.

4. Copying others says we don’t have what it takes. There’s nothing as common as “marketing and sales plagiarism.” Go to a meeting, attend a webinar, read it on a blob and find what someone else is doing and use it.

When we can buy whatever we want elsewhere and often at a lower price, marketing success is far less about products and prose and more about what companies do to make life easier and more enjoyable for customers.

5. Match marketing and sales messages to your customers. When something isn’t quite right, it makes us feel ill at ease and we reject it. Once doubt creeps in, trust erodes. Matching messages to customers is critical.

6. Follow through and keep your promises. Broken promises, even seemingly small ones, are killers today. When this happens, customers don’t just feel let down — they feel betrayed. They invest time and effort and put their trust in someone, only to be rejected. When this happens, they react by posting negative comments, make sure others know about their experience and they never forget.

Following through by keeping customers informed with good news and bad builds trust.

7. Slow down and think it through. “Act now; think later” may be the No. 1 marketing mantra. And it may also be the No.1 reason why marketing gets a bad rap. It takes time and imagination to think through even the most basic marketing activity.

The place to start is by asking the right questions: “How does it fit in our overall marketing strategy?” “What are the implications and possible outcomes if we do this?” “What can go wrong?” “What are the expected results and how will we measure them?” The best way to get what we want from marketing is to start by slowing down and thinking it through.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at johnrg31@me.com, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.

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