Note: This is a guest post by Ron Volper, Ph.D., and author of "Up Your Sales in a Down Market." The most profitable companies are the ones that regularly re-examine their business assumptions, and change their sales and marketing strategies, based on what worked well and not well in the previous year. Here are 5 Resolutions and Action Plans to help you grow your business in the New Year. 1. Become a More Customer-Focused Company Most company's say they are customer driven, but in most cases their customers would disagree with their assessment. Yet the companies whose customers do perceive them as customer-focused usually attract and keep more customers and are more profitable than their competitors. Related Content: 3 Pillars for Awesome Customer Service in Today's Connected World Actions to make this resolution a reality: \t Continually communicate the importance of customer service to your staff as one of the ways to differentiate your company \tOnly hire customer contact people, salespeople and others, who have demonstrated that they care about customers and enjoy interacting with them. In these tough economic times, there are many talented and empathetic customer contact people looking for a good company to affiliate themselves with. Provide your staff with training and coaching in customer communication skills, so that they can identify and meet customer expectations (and also interact more effectively with their internal customers, their colleagues). \tRecognize and reward employees that go the extra mile to help customers \tGive your staff guidelines and empower them to make decisions in resolving customer complaints \tRemind your staff that when they receive a customer complaint they need to fix three things: the presenting problem; the customer; and the underlying problem. If they are not in a position to fix the underlying problem, then they are responsible for bringing it to the attention of management. 2. Invest More In Advertising and Marketing It's understandable that many companies are cutting their advertising and marketing budgets, but unless they are in dire financial straits, it's a mistake. Because customers are now more skittish, you need to show up more often, both in advertising and in face-to-face meetings with customers. Because many companies have cut back on advertising, your message is now more likely to stand out. And because media outlets have seen a drop in demand, you can now negotiate better rates. Related Content: Entrepreneur Addiction Podcast #8 — ‘Not Your Momma’s Marketing’ Actions to make this resolution a reality: \t Use both hi-tech advertising (such as buying key words on the Internet) and high touch, traditional approaches, such as sponsoring events. \tUse traditional direct mail as well as e-mail to reach potential customers. While e-mail is less costly, direct mail is more impactful. \tDo not cut your travel or communications budget. (Your people should communicate with customers and prospects more often; and they need more face-to-face meetings to win them over.) So give them the means to do so. 3. Provide More Sales Training The most successful companies offer the most and the best sales training. Their training programs measurably improve the knowledge and skills of veteran salespeople as well as rookies Related Content: 5 Psychology Strategies That Will Build Your Client Base Actions to make this resolution a reality: \t Be sure that the sales training is aligned with your marketing vision and sales goals for the year \tConduct a Needs Analysis to identify strengths and weaknesses; and involve your team in planning the content of the training \t Be sure the training program is customized to reflect your company's products and sales reality \t Reinforce the training at regularly scheduled team meetings 4. Protect Existing Customer Relationships The key to profitability is keeping your current customers. The longer you keep them the more profitable the relationship usually becomes. For example, there is a 25 times greater chance that an existing customer will purchase an additional product than that a prospect will purchase anything from your company. And the key to acquiring new customers is getting referrals from current customers. Actions to make this resolution a reality: \t Conduct a Vulnerability Analysis to identify signs that an existing customer relationship may be in jeopardy. Look for "generic signs," such as identifying customers that are less prompt in returning your phone calls, or that are less anxious to meet with you; or that start asking you questions you previously answered. Look too for industry specific signs. One of our banking clients, for example, noticed that several customers had stopped using their line of credit, and stopped asking the bank for letters of credit. In spotting this change, the bank was able to intervene and save the relationship. \tConduct annual Account Reviews to surface any perceived problems with regard to how well you are meeting your customers' needs and expectations. Account reviews can also serve as a great forum to learn about your customers' future plans, and how you can fit into them. 5. Do Not Leave Well-Enough Alone It's understandable that successful businesses are reluctant to change their marketing or sales strategy, But in this fast-paced environment, where customer needs and tastes rapidly change, and where both local and global competition represent on-going threats to your business, the companies that succeed are the ones that are willing to make major changes to their business. So evaluate what may no longer be working for your company and have the courage to stop doing it. IBM as a case in point is one of our country's most successful companies and a global business icon. It became successful initially from selling business machines, such as typewriters, then from manufacturing and selling mainframe computers. Today, however, a major part of its revenue is derived from its consulting services and outsourcing services. For example, IBM now manages global purchasing for The Coca-Cola Company. Related Content: Entrepreneur Addiction Podcast #11 — The Zig Zag Principle with Rich Christiansen Actions to make this resolution a reality: \tEstablish a Customer Advisory Board so senior management can tap into changes in customer perceptions and needs; and use this business intelligence to identify future opportunities and guard against risks. \tEncourage all senior managers, regardless of their functional responsibility, to go on sales calls. So they can hear first hand about emerging customer needs. \tAppoint top salespeople to a Sales Advisory Board, as they have the most customer interaction and can report on what they are hearing from a wide array of customers. About the Author Ron Volper, Ph.D., is a leading authority on business development and author of Up Your Sales in a Down Market (Career Press, Nov. 2011). He has been interviewed on Bloomberg Television, MSNBC, and CNBC, and featured in Fortune, INC, Nation¹s Business, Success, Accounting Today, and others. As Managing Partner of the Ron Volper Group‹Building Better Sales Teams, he has advised 90 Fortune 500 Companies and many mid-sized companies on how to increase sales in tough times and good times; and he has trained over 30,000 salespeople and executives over the past 25 years. He is an Adjunct Faculty member at New York University, and a sought after speaker. He and his wife live in Larchmont, NY. Learn more at www.ronvolpergroup.com.