Even in a tough economy, it's possible to win new customers and keep your existing customers, too. The key is to put your marketing brainpower behind saving customers time, money and effort.

Let's face it. Traditional marketing tactics are steadily losing effectiveness. Customers don't have enough time to read--let alone respond to--run-of-the-mill ads and promotions. Running another ad isn't going to solve your problems, and besides, your budgets are probably under pressure anyway.

Customers Want Less

Want to grab a customer's attention? Want to lock in their loyalty and capture a greater share of their business? Save them time, money and effort.

To do this, just think of LESS:

Learn from your customers, and remember what they tell your firm. Most firms forget 90 percent of what customers tell them. If you can lower this percentage, you gain a remarkable competitive advantage. You'll know what each customer dislikes, and you will have an easier time removing these frustrations from their lives.

Eliminate practices that waste your customer's time, money or effort. A great way to start doing this is to look at interactions from the customer's perspective. The payback of such an analysis is often measured in days or weeks, because it invariably reveals flaws that are both substantial and easily fixed.

Simplify current practices and new ideas so they can be run better and cheaper. You're in business not only to please customers, but also to generate consistent profits. Most businesses have overly complex processes and lines of command that erode or eliminate profits while aggravating customers and employees alike. Make your business simpler, and you'll make it more profitable.

Succeed by redefining success. A significant portion of employee compensation should be based on increases in the revenue your firm generates from existing customers.

It may sound like heresy, but whenever possible avoid rewarding employees for bringing in new customers. Instead, have them view new customer acquisition as important because it broadens the base upon which they can earn incremental revenue. This minimizes the tendency of firms to acquire customers who will ultimately cost the firm money.

Each of these four steps lead towards the same goal, which is to figure out what bothers your customers and give them less of it. This benefits both your customers and your firm. Customers enjoy greater convenience and have an easier time spending money on the things they most value. Your business discovers and eliminates wasteful practices that harm its bottom line.

Work harder to find the overlap between your customers' interests and your own. This sounds obvious, but it is the exact opposite of what most firms do. They view customer relationships as adversarial, and the customers often feel the same.

The “less is more” philosophy fits perfectly with this goal. It's in your interest to stop spending money on activities that frustrate your customers, and it is certainly in your customers' interest as well.

Two Simple Questions

In workshops I give, I start with two simple questions. The first is, “What do you know about each of your customers that your competitors do not?” The most common response to this is: Good question; I'm not sure.

My second question is, “How do your marketing activities save your customers time, money and effort?” The most common response to this is: Well, they're not really intended to do that.

The good news is that once a marketing team focuses on these two questions, it usually takes mere minutes before they start to see many ways to improve the results their marketing dollars generate. The same can be true for you, if you put your mind to it.

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Bruce Kasanoff (bruce@nowpossible.com) is the author of Making It Personal. Learn more about Less is More Marketing at www.whenlessismore.com