Sticking to a proactive and organized plan will yield great benefits.

Seems I remember the current president of this country promising “changes.” We sure got ‘em. Everything’s changed, and if you don’t like the way things are now, just give it a few minutes.

Since the economy generally gives people the creeps about spending money, marketing has changed because it is trying to get them to spend. The same old marketing rules do not apply as before, and yet we see lots of old rules that should be abandoned. Here’s my list.

1. No focus.

This tops the list for a reason. Wait, what was I saying? Oh, right. It’s hard to hit a target if you’re constantly distracted. This includes spending endless time on discussion boards, Facebook and Twitter, allowing constant interruptions and appointments, unlimited time on email, or the “entrepreneurial disease” of thinking every opportunity is worth pursuit. It’s not. This is why we pound goal-setting into our clients’ heads and stay on them about it.

Your top marketing goals should be number of leads, number of conversions, number of new customers, repurchases from existing customers and increasing average transaction size for the year - all quite doable with a plan. Likewise, commit to “X” new products to take on, “Y” hours per day/week online, and “Z” training meetings in a year (try for more this year than last year).

2. One-sale customers.

Why have ‘em? Look, it costs you nearly $200 to get the lead and do the appointment, so if the bill was under $400, you probably lost money. Your job is to ascend the customer to additional product, frequency of visit and referral generation. This is done with good follow-up marketing and putting him into your customer retention program. Resales and referrals happen by intention, not luck. Focusing on this area can make your profits absolutely explode.

3. Failure to segment.

This mistake relates directly to items No. 1 and No. 2 on this list. It isthatimportant. No one can afford to attack the full list all the time and in this economy, it makes no sense. Then consider that 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your customers. Find the 20% and clone them.

Segment your database by recentness, frequency, transaction size, product interest, lead type and which ad generated the lead. In this way, you strategically “engineer” results from your marketing in response clusters. Aim, sell, profit and repeat. The smartest and most successful clients we have make a nice living off segmentation.

4. Perfectionitis.

Quit spending half your life “looking into” doing something, but not quite ever doing it. You delay because it’s not “perfect.” Newsflash: It ain’t ever gonna be perfect. The “OK” marketing campaign or product launch that’s well-executed will outsell the “soon to be perfect” one sitting on your desk every time. Results start with action. I don’t know about you, but I find it very hard to make a bank deposit based on things I’m going to do.

5. Not justifying the sales.

This happens in marketing and selling. Plumbers think that tossing out a low price in an ad is going to make the phone ring. Sorry. It just makes you look cheap and/or desperate. People haveno ideahow much your stuff is supposed to cost. Therefore, justify your price position with an ROI- based ad and presentation. Such as…

“The extended warranty is worth ‘X’ because a water heater costs ‘Y’,” or “The high-efficiency option actually generates a 6.2% ROI, better than any bank will offer, plus it increases your home’s value.”

In these times, you’d better be prepared to justify a cost - high or low - with effective, logically deductive reasoning.

6. Commit to get help, move on.

No one is an expert in everything. If you’re not a marketing strategist or graphic designer, why are you laboring over those functions or “expecting” your untrained staff to do it well? Specialists are abundant and yes, they charge money for their craft (don’t you?), but can likely save you more than they cost in results. Go online or check around.

We recently rewrote a letter for a contractor that was sent to 13,000 customers. His original generated 34 leads; ours generated 112. He paid us $4,000 for the custom letter, but sold an extra $116,000 from the previous effort. Though results are atypical, you can hire a web designer, sales trainer or marketing consultant who has seen your problem before and can solve it way easier than you can. This is why I hire people to fix my plumbing.

7. Committing the engineer error.

The gadgets and gizmos that made you weepy at the last conference willnothave the same effect on your customers. Continually adding new solutions without selling them really only adds to the problem. Commit to the new productafterlearning how to market and sell it to customers. Without that, who cares?

If you have shelves of stuff you thought was the answer to the question nobody ever asked, maybe you should hire the guy who sold it to you.

8. Customer service that isn't.

This hardly needs explanation. Customers are attracted to good service, repelled by the awful “norm.” Bad stories are often repeated and silently cost you thousands. Maybe tens of thousands. Good service standouts are rare, lauded, referred and are remarkably insensitive to price. Thus, an investment in customer service can massively repay you. Consider CSR part of your “company experience” that flows from the ad, to the phone, to the visit and to the follow-up.

Treat customer service as if it doesn’t matter and customers will feel the same way about you.

9. No customer retention program.

This one area touches about six items on this list. Contractors who can’t get to the next level in sales often find that by installing a customer retention program, it “magically” happens. To me, the gold of your business is alreadyin your business, buried in the customer list waiting to be mined.

Customer retention only costs you about 8% to 12% of your marketing budget, yet generates a high ROI by repeat purchases, less negotiation, faster purchases, more referrals and a far greater willingness to buy your recurring revenue maintenance agreement.

If you don’t actively and intentionally “keep” customers, why should they stay? It’s not their job to remember you. It’s your job to be remembered. Pursue them more with follow-up calls, postcard reminders, newsletters and advance sales notices. It’s easily done, yet also easily not done. Make a goal in 2012 to keep every customer for life.

Avoid these common marketing mistakes for 2012 and you can prosper far beyond those who found out too late that the rules have changed. Here’s hoping this year is your best and most profitable year ever.