I gave a talk to business owners about the importance of having a targeted marketing and sales strategy (#5 on my 10 Essential Elements to Long-Term Growth). In that talk I showed why companies who thrive are laser focused in defining to whom they want to sell their products or services. This is especially true with start-ups or small companies where a limited marketing budget and a small sales force is the norm. The analogy I use most often to stress this point is the game of darts. How silly would it be to play darts without a dartboard? Yet I routinely see owners liberally handing out darts to their sales team with no dartboard in sight - all the while still expecting them to regularly hit a bullseye (customer).
It was after this presentation that a question was posed, “How do I decide who to target?”
Bingo! That is exactly the question I wanted these business owners to ponder.
I’m sorry to say that you won’t find the answer here in this blog.
Because the process to decide this requires an extensive internal company assessment (resources, expertise, etc...) and external market analysis (barrier to entry, competitors, regulatory hurdles, etc...).
I can however give you one step in that process. Answer this question, "How are you different from competitors in your industry or sector?" Figuring out what’s different about your business will then lead to identifying companies who value that difference and thus who you should consider targeting.
But what if you are not different.
Unfortunately, most of us fall into this category. We are in “commodity” businesses. In other words, within our industry sector we are simply an orange sitting on a stack of oranges. Unless you've intentionally done something to separate yourself, this is likely true whether you are a marketing firm, lawyer, dentist, broker, web designer, staffing company, accounting firm, bank, dry cleaners, insurance company, real estate agent, or even a consultant like me.
Are you getting the picture?
The challenge for every business owner is to decide, (1) do I simply compete as an orange - knowing I will have to out-market (advertise, SEO, etc...) all the other oranges in my sector and accept that price likely drive the buying decision or, (2) narrow the competing field by specializing - become unique - a blood orange, naval orange, or clementine for example. There is no right or wrong answer here. The downfall comes when you are unaware, in denial, or worse yet, think you have something unique when in fact you don't.
One of the examples I like to use when explaining how a 'commodity' business can specialize and thus separate from the pack is the story of the law firm, Cordell and Cordell. I think we all know how many law firms there are in this world (that stack of oranges is miles high). Recognizing this, Cordell and Cordell chose to specialize - they became a domestic litigation firm further specializing in men’s divorce - a blood orange (no pun). In doing so, they reduced the size of the competition significantly. And by fully embracing this strategy they know clearly who they want to serve (target) as a customer - men contemplating divorce. To reinforce their brand they have gone so far as to own and manage the content of mensdivorce.com and mensrights.com. The resultant growth they've experienced is nothing less than remarkable.
So ask yourself, are you an orange competing against other oranges?
If so, how will your customers choose your orange from the rest on the stack? What does your dartboard look like?
Or, have you made yourself a unique enough orange to warrant being placed in a different bin, with the ability to command a higher price, and a much clearer understanding of the bullseye your marketing and sales force should be aiming at.