I saw a great advertisement yesterday. It was an ad for a storage facility on a bus. (The ad was on the bus, not the storage facility.)

What made it such a great ad? Underneath the phone number was the instruction, “Mention the word ‘bus’ and get your first month free!”

A free anything is always a smart sales tactic. (See my article Sell More by Giving Things Away.) What’s even smarter is that using the word ‘bus’ makes the ad trackable. At the end of the month, quarter or year, the company can see exactly how many sales came from their bus ads and compare those numbers not only with the cost of the ads, but also with their other marketing efforts to gauge their relative effectiveness.

Tracking your sales gives you data to make better business decisions. This is critical because there are a million things clamoring for your sales and marketing dollars, from Yellow Pages ads to web site SEO (search engine optimization), from radio campaigns to sales training for your team.

Now, while sales and marketing efforts are investments rather than expenses (because money you put into them should provide a return), not all investments are good ones. The only way to know which investments are worth your money is to track your results from everything and analyze the data.

For every line item in your sales and marketing budget, what kind of a return are you getting? If the answer is nothing (or close to it), then, obviously, stop doing that. But if the returns are good, increase your expenditures on that.

Most companies these days have slashed their sales and marketing budgets across the board. Because they haven’t been tracking their sales, they have no idea what’s been working and what hasn’t been. Which means they’re shooting themselves in the foot by reducing their investments in those efforts that generate sales. They’re not advertising their product, they’re not training their salespeople and they’re not improving their customer service. Is it any wonder their sales are way down?

The good news is, their shortsightedness creates a golden opportunity for you, if you know where to invest your sales and marketing efforts.