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On Target

Time is money, so don't waste yours. Focus on the prospects most likely to pay off.

Focus can be a serious issue for new entrepreneurs. After all, you're learning everything you can about starting and running a business, working with new customers or clients, and mastering sales and marketing. But unless your marketing efforts are skillfully focused on your best prospects, all your tactics will miss the mark.

Can you spot a great prospect when you encounter one? Are you sure? Often, your best prospect is someone who's working with or buying from your competitor. To gain market share, you have to chip away at someone else's customer base. So if you contact prospects and quickly cross off anyone who's already working with or buying from someone else, you'll miss vital opportunities to grow your business.

To pursue the right prospects, focus on businesses or consumers who fit these three qualifications.

1. A good prospect has an acknowledged need for what you market. It's always more difficult to create a need than to fill one. It takes a lot of marketing dollars to help people who have never tried something understand why they need it. But when you find prospects who are already purchasing the type of product or service you market, they have acknowledged a need. These prospects require less convincing because they've been through the learning curve.

Rather than chase after unqualified prospects, look for individuals or businesses already purchasing or shopping for something that's similar to, or fills the same need as, what you market. And if this means all your prospects must be lured away from your competitors, so be it!

2. A well-qualified prospect can afford to buy what you sell. Nothing is more exhausting and costly than trying for months to persuade a new client or customer to buy while he struggles to justify the expenditure. Say, for example, you're marketing sun-room additions. You'll find less price resistance if you target homeowners who are considering adding rooms rather than try to convince consumers who haven't considered or budgeted for home remodeling. Or suppose you're selling security cameras to businesses. Your most qualified prospects would be those currently using other forms of business security, or prospects who have no security systems in place and are actively looking for the right vendor. You know they have established a budget for what you sell.

3. Great prospect is willing to pay for what you market. Qualified prospects are businesses or individuals that, when reached through effective sales and marketing methods, can be convinced that what you offer is of value. Typically, that means they're currently purchasing, or evaluating the potential purchase of, the kind of product or service you sell--which is yet another strong case for targeting businesses and consumers working with your competitors. After all, there will be many businesses or consumers who can afford to pay for what you're selling, but a terrific prospect has already demonstrated a willingness to actually buy.

For sales and marketing success, focus on a core group of prospects who fit these three criteria and convince them to buy from you by demonstrating that what you offer provides compelling and valuable benefits. When presented with persuasive benefits through marketing and an effective sales effort, over time, these qualified prospects will become your best customers.

Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, atwww.smallbusiness now.com. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available atwww.smallbizbooks.com.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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This article was originally published in the October 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: On Target.

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