If you're running a successful business by your standards, then good for you. But I'm going to drop this bomb: It could be better by leaps and bounds just by asking your customers the simple question, "How did you hear about us?"
You might think I'm nuts saying you could grow your business that much with word-of-mouth, but I'm not.
We tested this out at my online marketing company, VerticalResponse. Any small business can sign up for our service by providing a few pieces of information to get a free account automatically set up. But for this test (which we ran for about six months), we included a drop down menu on the sign-up page that asked, "How did you hear about us?" In the menu, there were answers like "article," "online ad" and "search engine," but the No. 1 way people heard about us was simply, "friend."
Now, I thought my team members had gone off the deep end telling me that many of our new customers probably came from existing customers. We even had the drop down menu dynamically display these answers in random order so people weren't just choosing the first one on the list. And still, the number one answer was, "friend."
To take it one step further, 50 percent of all people who came directly to our website to sign up for our service cited "friend" when asked how they heard about us.
That's pretty powerful stuff. I'm sure that our business isn't that much different from yours in terms of how people get their information and make a decision.
So what can you do right now?
The bottom line is that spending money on advertising alone just doesn't work anymore. You are not the proud owner of your brand; your customers are. Listen to them and do whatever you can to make them happy, and watch your business grow - by leaps and bounds.
Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, which provides a full suite of self-service online marketing solutions for small businesses and non-profits including email marketing, event marketing, online surveys, social media and direct mail. She's also the CEB (Chief Executive Blogger) of the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog for Small Businesses.
Follow Janine Popick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/janinepopick