Lots of experts are ready and willing to tell you what you should be doing to promote your business and increase your sales. The trouble is, some of them are flat-out wrong. So how can you sift through the good and the bad of all the things you’re hearing? For starters, let’s go over a few basic principles:

Pure lead generation is NOT your only marketing goal. Your ad rep may scream, “It’s all about getting more,” but the tactics that ensue may resemble those from a circus barker with a truth disorder.

Beware: this sell-at-any-cost approach can lead you down a common path — one designed especially for low-priced leaders on their way out of business. I can write an ad to get you all the leads you want if I can give the store away (seemingly) and suspend the truth to entice gullible, unqualified, and possibly bankrupt leads. Is this what you want?

Further, don’t use your marketing to promote low prices unless you’re positive this fits your business plan. You can be good, cheap, or convenient; pick any two. But, please know that if you use low prices to bait and switch, you may get an unfriendly letter from the state’s attorney general’s office.

Use marketing to promote your value. Tell prospects what’s in it for them and how your products and service can make a difference in their lives. This ensures a more qualified prospect at the start.

By offering a superior and immediately recognizable advantage that your competition doesn’t offer, you turn prospects into customers.

In Yellow Page (YP) ads, bigger is NOT always better. Sure, YP reps want you to believe that if you buy bigger Yellow Page ads in more sections, you’ll get noticed. But think of it this way: is bigger always better in HVAC systems? In marketing, as in heating and cooling, you’re going for efficiency. If your YP budget exceeds 31% (HVAC) or 41% of your budget (pure service or plumbing), you’re not getting the most for your marketing dollars. Stop the madness, now.

Direct response is NOT the only advertising form you should use. I’m a direct response copywriter. We’re paid $1,800 per page to write good copy. If I wanted only to line my pocket with your money, I’d be a fool to tell you this wasn’t the answer to every marketing need you ever had.

Call me a fool then — Direct response as your only form of advertising is the fastest way I know to lose credibility in the market. Good luck building it back among worthy customers. If you don’t, you’ll be the king of dangling, increasingly fantastic bait in front of largely un-financeable dregs. Hard to keep this and a strong, solvent, loyal customer base moving together. Use a balanced mix of direct response, image, and retention marketing to achieve the success and reputation you deserve.

All prospects are NOT alike. Sure, bigger, older homes with old systems have you salivating about big-ticket replacements. But this gets back to the first point. Don’t go chasing your dream of new customers unless you’re willing to put a little bit of effort into keeping the ones you’ve already got.

The best prospects for new business — through their own service and replacement needs as well as their referrals — are your current customers. The fact is, customers spend 33% more than non-customers. And referrals among customers are 107% greater than among non-customers.

By providing a superior customer retention program — which includes contact several times a year — you keep those customers.

Here are two awesome retention programs that are easy to do: One is a newsletter for every check-writing customer you’ve got. And, a maintenance agreement program that a smaller group of your clients pay you for.

Now that’s a nice switch. You get reliable, referring, high-value customers pumping predictable profits in your company, year after year, automatically.

Use these different marketing tools and tactics to build a better marketing machine in your company. You’ll find your marketing can bring leads, image, and sales almost by auto-pilot, so you can run your business instead.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334-262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 1-800-489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports, including a free 12-page report called “The Perfect HVAC Profit System” about Maintenance Agreements.