Silver bullets.

They’re the magic ingredients that make a small business go “whoosh!” You know what I mean. Viral. Free. Co-marketing. Deals. A magic something that puts your business growth into overdrive.

Bad news: Silver bullets don’t exist for most small businesses. You have to work for it. Hard. The same holds true for Constant Contact.

When we started out in 1998, we looked for our silver bullet.

We tried lots of things we thought would catapult us to success. One was partnering with companies whose customer base was comprised of tens of thousands of small businesses. Should be easy, right? Nope. One Request for Proposal (RFP) with a major player took us nine months to win. Nine months! We were ecstatic when we won the deal. Launch date came (after numerous delays). The results were pathetic. We learned — with this partner and with others — that no one could market our service the way we could.

We spent a lot of time looking for silver bullets. Search engine optimization (SEO) was another one. We worked hard and got the number one natural listing for “email marketing,” (a very competitive term). It certainly helped us grow, but still no silver bullet.

What we missed? How our customers learn about new things.

Genchi Genbutsu is Japanese for “go look, go see.” So that’s what we did — we sent our employees out to get to know small business owners. Guess what we learned? Busy small business owners weren’t consuming online content from our partners or Googling “email marketing” — they were too busy running their businesses. They learned new things from their peers or heard them on the radio.

When we told our board we were going to try radio to reach our customer base, they laughed — an online marketing company using traditional media? Yes, it is ironic. And so old-fashioned.

But guess what?

We tested it in a couple of small markets, and it worked. Why? Small businesses often have a radio on in the background. We learned that when we visited their businesses.

If you’ve been trying to increase business growth through various marketing channels and nothing is working — and you’re ready to bang your head on the table — take a breather, then “go look, go see.”

View your business from the perspective of your customers.

Get to know them. Visit them where they live or work. Find out how they spend their days. What apps do they use? What sites do they visit? When and how do they search for what you offer? What is important in their buying decisions?

Once you have a marketing hypothesis, run a small test. If it works, scale it and fine tune it. Then do it again. Don’t worry about those silver bullets. Hard work and customer understanding will beat them every time.

Do you have a story you’d like to share about what you learned about your customers and how it changed your marketing? Share it in the comments below.