Justin Gray is the CEO and chief marketing evangelist of LeadMD. He founded the company in 2009 with the vision of transforming traditional grassroots marketing efforts through the use of cloud-based marketing solutions.

If there's one trait small businesses share, it's the need to identify and target their best customers. Wasting marketing budget and staff hours on the wrong customers is a mistake no entrepreneur can afford.

That might sound obvious. Who wouldn't want to increase their number of great customers? But most business owners overlook a mandatory component of growth: strategic processes. They’re afraid of formalized structure because it sounds dull, and they think it will tame their company’s creative energy or kill innovation. They often think they can delay implementing firm processes until their business is bigger.

But in the absence of good processes, they chase any and all customers they can. They try to sell whatever someone asks for. Their staff is constantly shifting gears while a variety of customers flow in and out in equal measure. And a few years down the road, they realize that the churn is worse than not acquiring new business. It simply costs more, from wasted marketing resources to exhausted staff to an inconsistent brand.

Which is where processes come into play. Most small businesses have a loose definition of their best customers, such as those who spend the most money, or are the most likely to recommend the company and act as a brand evangelist. But that doesn't define where these customers can be found or what traits they have in common or what strategies are effective at attracting them. Only consistent and scalable processes can reveal those insights.

Customer growth comes from making strategic decisions. Any revenue from bad customers tends to be fleeting money. The smarter path is analyzing your best customer profiles and investing in them--so let's talk about how to develop those processes.

Hire the Right People

If you're a small business owner, you're probably something of a visionary. You see the big picture. You have ambitious plans. This means in all likelihood, you probably aren't a process person.

You need to hire people who aren't like you; people who can happily spend their days focusing on details and creating processes. Often entrepreneurs instinctively hire other visionaries and big-picture thinkers because of their compatible personalities. But your business will grow fastest when you hire people with the strengths to counter your weaknesses.

Let Data Drive the Processes

It's easy to assume you know what your best customer looks like, the services they like and their demographic profile. But only data can eliminate biases and reveal truths like how your ideal customer builds trust and how they make decisions.

Surveys along with your CRM and marketing automation systems will provide some of those answers, but it's also vital to tap the data sitting inside your company. Talk to your sales and marketing heads, your service and sales reps. What are customers experiencing and saying? What are their priorities and deal-breakers? How did your business capture their attention? If you have a very young business, it's possible you don't have many customers to analyze yet. If that's the case, consider hiring a research firm to supplement your data.

Map Your Processes to Your Customers' Needs and Your Own

Once you know who your best customers are and where they come from, you can start refining processes. What do they need and how can you map your daily workflows to those needs? From marketing to account management to sales, create processes that provide great service and inspire loyalty. Don't forget your less-than-ideal customers; while you want them to come away with a positive brand impression, your processes should be designed to turn away similar customers in the future.

Don't assume your current policies and infrastructure already do this. All too often small businesses will find a disconnect between their delivery and customer needs. Maybe your customer service reps aren't set up to solve your best customer's questions and concerns. Maybe your marketers have invested a serious budget in social campaigns when it turns out your most profitable buyers are engaging on mobile. Or maybe your sales team is spending too much time on customers who aren't likely to buy again. Dig into your processes across departments and repair any breakdowns.

Processes may not be the most exciting part of running a small business, but they can be the key to deepening customer loyalty and engagement, whether you're just building your business or at the helm of a small company. Align your processes with your best customers' needs now and you'll see your business grow.

Published on: Jul 29, 2015