Are your social media efforts generating any new business? Do the dollars you spend on “marketing” actually convert to new clients coming in your door, or do they just help reassure you that you’re putting your company “out there”? Are your efforts in attending shows paying off? Are your outbound sales calls resulting in bookings or are you just spinning your proverbial wheels? And what’s the rate of return on your email marketing program?

If you are like most small businesses, you probably have a pretty good idea of what your response would be to each of those questions. And, like most businesses, those answers probably wouldn’t be based completely on cold, hard facts; instead, they’ve likely been determined more by hearsay or what someone has “told you”.

Marketing is one of the few things in a business that often gets done with very little oversight. Most operators that we work with choose their advertising and marketing activities based on which sales person is the most persuasive, what they have always done, or what they hear other operators talking about.

Why is that? Why is it that we are willing to run this one part of our business that way when we wouldn’t consider doing it in any other area? The answer is, in most cases, because tracking ROI and effectiveness of advertising is neither easy or comfortable for organizations who have never done it before. It is possible, however, and the results from doing it can absolutely revolutionize your business.

Let’s imagine that a company is working on a marketing plan for the coming year. One of the first things they may address is what was done the previous year. Let’s pretend, for the sake of this exercise, that they spent $25,000 in total marketing dollars. They attended some shows, had a few ads running in a local magazine and one in the phone book, ran an email marketing campaign, paid to have some SEO done, and they also had someone “doing” their social media for them.

As they review, they know what they spent, what they did, and they ultimately know what the bottom line result was in terms of the total sales they did for the company. At this point, it would be easy to make an assessment: they achieved five million dollars in sales, a number that was $200,000 more than the year before, and they only spent $25,000 in marketing efforts. Anyone would probably feel pretty solid about that result.

But there’s a problem with this course of logic: although all of that data may well be true, there’s still the question of why. Why did sales increase 4%? Was the growth driven by the economy? What of the money that was spent actually generated a return? And perhaps most importantly, which marketing efforts should be continued, and which ones should be abandoned?

Here’s the thing: without understanding what is actually generating a result, you simply can’t do any fine-tuning. This is one of the biggest challenges we face as we help motorcoach operators refine and build their marketing programs. If you don’t realize that your email marketing campaign is generating 65% of your sales growth, you wouldn’t know to hone that specific effort and cut others. Bottom line? Being unaware prevents you from making informed decisions.

Most companies understand that information makes it possible to make better decisions, but when it comes to marketing, finding and using that data can be difficult. The primary reason for this is that we don’t have a direct line between interest and sales. For many companies, especially those who sell things exclusively online, it is easy to see that someone clicked on this ad, came to this page, clicked the purchase button, and bought the product. With a motorcoach booking, those lines are blurred at best and can be difficult to track down. It can be done, but requires thought, planning, tools, and buy-in from your staff to really get what you need.

To get started, all you need to do is ask one simple question to all of your potential clients: HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT US? Even though it sounds so easy, many charter operations struggle to make this one question a consistent part of their interactions with customers. These 6 little words have a profound power in any business, but many sales people feel like they are an intrusion into some perceived personal space.

If you consistently ask this straightforward question and record the answers you receive, you’ll get real data that will help refine your marketing efforts. Many operators ask me how they should record it, or they talk about their desire to implement a software system that will help track this information. Some talk about a fully functional CRM and how it would give them the insights they want and need. However, many of these technologies are hard to implement and slow to deploy, especially in a motorcoach operation. While all of these are good ideas (and we think each has their own place at the marketing table), we also realize that we can’t let them stand in the way of implementation. Starting with something as simple as a notepad can get you going in the right direction. Simple check boxes of how people heard about you (which end up as tallies that get turned in at the end of a day or week) will give you the ability to tabulate, at least on the surface, where the business is coming from. However you choose to do it, paper or not, you will start to gather important data. Then, as you go forward, you’ll find ways to make things a bit more robust: a custom field in your booking software, a google doc, or even using an actual CRM.

This is not the end of a journey in tracking ROI, but it is a start. Once you have started to collect accurate data here, you can begin using things such as unique phone numbers and URLs to better understand exactly what you are seeing from individual efforts, but don’t underestimate the power of the question.

Having this data will allow you to build your marketing plans with confidence because you’ll actually be able to identify what is working. You can begin to make informed decisions and refine your spending. Almost without fail, companies who have made these changes are able to do more than they ever thought possible without dramatically increasing their budget. Your marketing dollars are precious and should be treated with the respect they deserve. You don’t need to increase your spending year after year, continuing everything you have always done. You can make decisions based on real data and your team can help you get there. If you are not already getting 100% of your quotes to answer that one question, be sure to make the change today. You will be glad you did.