Determining your target market and acquiring accurate data on your sales prospects may be the most important first steps in developing and managing your long-term sales and marketing strategy, but they are also steps worth repeating to ensure your success. Salespeople must continually evaluate and determine whether those initial assessments were, well, on target.

Unfortunately, the old adage that "a product sells itself" is nothing more than a sales and marketing myth. Products sell in large part because of the due diligence that is completed before the first sales call is made. That means taking the necessary time to create your "ideal customer" profile and then securing a high-end database of prospects and companies that match that profile.

My company, AG Salesworks, took such a course of action two years ago as part of its long-term sales strategy. At the time, we at the company also made a commitment to revisit the process on a quarterly basis to compare the results we'd achieved with the goals we'd established. We went through a very simple three-step process:

  1. Identifying our ideal profile by reviewing our current client roster
  2. Acquiring a spot-on list of decision makers at companies that were similar to our "favorite clients"
  3. Reaching out to the key decision-makers at those companies.

Think of that process as a "how-to guide" for conducting your own internal sanity check on whom you're selling to and where you're finding them.

Step 1: Whom do I love doing business with today?

Your current client roster is the best place to look for determining whom to sell to. Doing so is admittedly a little easier if you are an established company and you have 10 or more customers. For a startup, you'll need to rely more on your gut and past experiences in each category.

Break down your evaluation of clients into the three categories listed below, and then establish your own benchmarks in each category to match your unique business. Listed are my company's categories and benchmarks from two years ago, and they remain the same because the exercise worked.

  1. Revenue paid to your company annually (my company set the threshold at $150,000 per year)
  2. Tenure as a customer (minimum of one year with your company)
  3. Willingness to be a reference for your company in the sales process (yes or no)

Assess each client against those three criteria to create your master list of "best customers."

Note: I love these criteria because they're simply highlighting the people who pay you the most, stay with you the longest, and say nice things about you publicly. Exactly the folks your long-term sales strategy should be targeting.

Step 2: What do my favorite customers have in common?

Finding the commonalities among your best customers can be time-consuming and difficult to complete internally. If you are up to the task, go for it, but I recommend using a third party to conduct an assessment of your ideal customer list for two reasons: It will be done faster, and it will free up your time so you can sell.

Assessment will work only if you have the following information in each record:

  • Industry
  • Number of employees
  • Annual revenue
  • Title of the person who authorized the purchase (signer)
  • Title of the person who drove the purchasing process (driver)
  • Title of the executive who invariably got in the way at the very last minute with concerns and questions after not having been involved at all in the process (chief financial officers and general counsels come to mind…)

You can add geographical information if that matters to you. If you don't have each record completed, you can have your third party fill in the holes (or have your summer intern do it). Either way, once you have the full information, you'll need to find the similarities.

To do so, summarize the list in each category and form a consensus as to what is most common in each. Here is what my company came up with after looking at our top clients:

  • Most earned $100 million to $1 billion in revenue.
  • Most had 300-plus employees.
  • Most were software companies selling business to business.
  • The most common three target titles were director of marketing (driver), vice-president of marketing or chief marketing officer (signer), and general counsel (roadblock).

With little effort, we developed a simple-to-understand guideline for identifying those we should be targeting. Now, all we had to do was to find the contacts.

Step 3: Finding the contacts

You can go down two paths to get to a large and healthy list of target prospects ready to buy your products or services: One is to hand over your newly minted ideal customer profile information to your preferred data provider, and see what you get back; the other is to use the data you already have.

Some folks are even brave enough to do a combination of both.

Data quality is always an issue when buying lists, so if you do engage a data provider, make sure the provider gives you a guarantee; and be prepared to track bad contacts so that you can return them for replacements. Also, make sure you get great service. I know this sounds hokey, but I've seen a direct correlation between the level of customer service I've received and the quality of the data: the poorer the service, the worse the data.

If you want to use your existing data, that is great, but you'll have to conduct one more assessment before you can use it. You'll have to run your ideal customer profile against your own database to make sure that the information you have in-house actually matches. If it does, then you are off to the races. If it doesn't, then you'll have to go to a data provider for help.

* * *

The three-step process I've outlined helped our business tremendously over the past two years. Be sure to take the time needed to complete the process internally, and don't forget that you have to keep doing it every quarter to make sure that you are still on track. Markets change over time, and you'll want to be sure that you can always easily identify your ideal customer.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Target your customers)

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Who Is Your Ideal Customer? Three Simple Ways to Find Your Target Market

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image of Peter Gracey
Peter Gracey is chief operating officer at AG Salesworks, a B2B teleprospecting and marketing services firm.