Use Your Head

Sales & Marketing

Reaching Your Target Market

By Grace Butland

As tempting as it is to think otherwise, not everyone is interested in your products or services. Your first marketing challenge is to profile those people who are your potential customers--not waste your time and money trying to sell to the market at large.

It's a vital step to prevent wasting both your time and start-up capital. If you're already established in business, look at your records for information such as where your best customers live, how frequently they purchase, how much they spend, and so on. Check government and industry reports for population statistics, spending habits and trends. If you're just getting started, ask questions of friends, acquaintances and potential customers.

You have some idea of who your best customers will be. Ask them what products, prices and advertising appeal to them. Ask them when and why they buy, how much they spend and what qualities they look for in the product or service you plan to offer. Ask what publications they read. Ask what kind of work they do, if they like to travel, if they have children or grandchildren. You can learn this information through surveys or informal conversations.

Once you've collected the information, use the following segmentation process to define your ideal customer:

  • Demographics. Describe your best customers, including age, sex, income, occupation, education, race, language and family size.
  • Geographics. Where do your best customers live? Do your products sell better in cities or rural areas? If you're a retailer, how far are people willing to travel to visit your shop?
  • Psychographics. Social class, lifestyle and personality influence the tastes and spending habits of your customers. Define your best customer in terms of these characteristics.
  • Behavioristics. How often do your customers purchase? Why do they buy? Are they predisposed to buying your product or service, or do you need to educate them? What benefits are important to them: Quality? Economy? Status? Convenience?
  • Distribution channels. Do you sell your products wholesale or retail? Through catalogs? To corporate buyers? Is there a way you can reach large groups of customers at once?

When Roberta Leffingwell, owner of Skinny Dog Publishing in Torrington, Connecticut, researched the potential market for her personalized children's books, she found that grandparents, aunts and uncles--not parents--would be her best customers. "Parents are usually concerned with buying necessities," she says. "Grandparents, other relatives and friends are more likely to buy special books as gifts."

Leffingwell determined that her best customers would be white-collar workers who valued convenience. And because she must interact with each customer twice--once to make the sale, and again to deliver the finished book--geographic proximity was necessary for cost effectiveness.

After you've defined your best customers, you must figure out how to get your message to them at a reasonable cost. Leffingwell discovered that hospitals and large corporations bring vendors in to offer "on-site shopping" as a convenience to their employees. Through this shopping program, she reaches large groups of potential buyers at each location and delivers the finished books in one stop.

If you sell a variety of products or services, each may require a different marketing approach. Leffingwell recently added wedding books to her product line and plans to reach future brides through joint promotions with wedding photographers and bridal boutiques.

You can't grow your business without marketing. But why waste your time and money marketing to the wrong people? Identify your best customers and send your message directly to them.

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This article was originally published in the December 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Use Your Head.

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