Small business  owners, ask yourselves: are you ignoring your most valuable asset--the customers standing right in front of you? Talking to your customers, getting real-time feedback and developing relationships are key to knowing how to market your business.

Don't make assumptions

Just because you've kept your doors open doesn't mean all is well. Never assume you know what your customers want, or what drives them to your business. If you've been marketing the same way for months, or even years, it's time to reevaluate your marketing strategy. The first and most important step is research. This may sound daunting, but as a business owner, your focus group is walking through your doors or visiting your website every day. The key is figuring out how to tap into them.

Start simply by talking to your customers. By asking your customers what they think of your food, product and how they heard about your location, you're gaining valuable insight that can help move your small business forward.

Keep the 70/30 communications rule in mind. At least 70 percent of the time you should be listening. While it might feel out of your comfort zone at first, people love to be asked their opinions and you'll make your customers feel valued. The other 30 percent of the time you can ask questions or talk about yourself and your business to make connections on a personal level. Not only will you be able to collect important insights, you'll also build relationships with your customers.

Get to know your customers

I had a recent experience that was a great example of this. When visiting a newly opened restaurant, the owner approached me with a smile and notepad in hand. She started a two-way conversation and showed genuine interest. I got to know her and she got insight on what I thought about her new small business. She asked some simple, but critical questions:

  • How did you find out about us?
  • What made you come in today?
  • Where should I be advertising?

Her questions utilized her time efficiently and prioritized what she wanted to know. It's important to recognize that our customers are the greatest resources and it's important to take time to get to know them.

Don't stop researching

Many small business owners make the mistake of gathering customer feedback and leaving it at that. We live in a world where marketing best practices change daily and customers aren't as brand loyal as they used to be. Always remember that feedback is an ongoing process.

In order to keep up with your customer's needs, you must keep the conversation going. Other ways to gather research and feedback include conducting surveys, incentivizing customers and looking at reviews. As you explore these avenues, don't forget the impact of a simple conversation with your existing customers.  They'll tell you all you need to know, you just need to be ready to listen.