At a recent MITX event, I heard a wonderful expression as it relates to marketing and public relations: watering the sidewalk.

Think about the connotations of this phrase. You’ve got all of the infrastructure: sprinklers, underground water, electricity, a lawn you want to keep nice, probably some electronics to control the timing. You’ve done all of the hard work to keep your lawn looking great. Yet because of something relatively simple – where the sprinkler is aimed – you’re being completely unproductive. Grass isn’t ever going to grow on the sidewalk, nor would you want it to.

This is the greatest fear of every CMO I’ve ever met, that their marketing and communications programs are watering the sidewalk. You’ve spent thousands or maybe even millions of dollars on marketing automation systems, CRM software, email marketing, public relations, advertising, and more, and yet the results are not there. Worst of all, you can’t figure out why – and the reason why may be because of something simple: you’re watering the sidewalk with your marketing and communications efforts.

How do you avoid continuing to make this mistake? How do you focus your efforts where they will be most effective in the months to come, especially when it comes to your marketing and communications strategy? Here’s one simple (but not easy) tip that you should do as soon as practically possible:

Ask your best customers.

Open up your CRM and find the 10 customers who are most like the customers you want to have. Maybe they’re super-profitable for your business. Maybe they’re absolutely amazing whenever they call into customer service. Maybe they give back as much as they buy. Maybe they’ve been with you since the beginning of your business. Maybe they evangelize for you without being asked. Whatever constitutes your idea of “best customer”, gather up a list of 10 of them.

Then ask them:

  • When you’re looking for news to help grow your business, what specific publications, media, or sites do you frequent?
  • When you’re looking for business-growing advice, what conferences and events do you go to?
  • When you go in search of people to learn from, who do you follow on social media?
  • When you’re seeking to stay up to date about how to grow your business, what email newsletters do you subscribe to?

While there is no single magic bullet that guarantees you will stop watering the sidewalk, asking your best customers where they learn and spend their time is a great start. You may learn about email newsletters that you should consider contributing to or sponsoring. You may find out about publications that your PR agency or team can pitch your stories to. You may find that your customers’ top followed-people in social media have many followers who would be great customers, so you can start to build an influencer engagement program.

Most important, you’ll know where you shouldn’t be focusing heavy amounts of marketing and communications effort because your best customers aren’t there. You’ll stop watering the sidewalk.

All of this begins with the simple act of asking your best customers where they spend their scarce time, and then determining what you can do to be in those same places. Ask!