How to find a needle in the haystack

Mature marketplaces provide clear targets for new growth – the firm demographics have already been mapped. But how can you segment or target for growth in the virgin territories where little is known of who’s buying what and why?

In “early adopter” markets, the number of potential buyers is initially small, and finding a business with the right profile is like a combination of “blind man’s bluff” and finding a needle in the haystack. That is, you don’t yet know what you’re looking for, and even when you do they are hard to find.

The surest way to flush out the prospects with the right profile is to stir up trouble and see who emerges. Target the problems you are good at solving, even if you don’t yet know what sort of business is most likely to respond. Then, because you don’t yet know who they are, you have to “flush” these buyers out using broad tactics.

An example was the early days of Internet commerce. Operators of market sites told us we were missing millions by not reaching the so-called “digital generation” – the undefined market of millions who were going to do all their shopping online.

Public Relations was a key tactic because the “newness” made for good copy. The businesses which responded to the siren call were from many industries. PR worked well as a tactic because it reached many types of businesses. It was not until quite late in the cycle that travel and banking emerged as key markets.

Let’s look at the key steps in flushing out buyers in an early market:

  1. Identify the problem your business solves better than any of your competitors. An example might be “under-resourced for growth”.

  2. Get your team together, and ask yourselves, “What types of businesses have this problem?” Your discussion should produce a list of traits that describe the ideal prospect, such as “high growth”, “recently recapitalised”, “re-organised into business units”, or “local arm of a multi-national”.

  3. Identify one or two tactics capable of troubling these businesses – being careful to select methods that you can afford to use across a wide audience. Seminar presentations or well-written white papers about the problem are often effective at troubling buyers, but using direct mail to acquire your audience may not be effective, due to its cost and response rate.

  4. Use the characteristics of the targeted businesses from step 2 to shape the initial contact method you use. For example, you may choose advertising or PR to gain an audience for your seminar or white paper. Be careful though, your ad isn’t just to identify the right customers – but to discourage the wrong businesses.

The result might look something like this:

Think about this for a minute. Because you don’t yet know who to target, you might decide to present this invitation as an advertisement in a business magazine or newspaper. While advertising may appear to be a broad tactic, the copy has a strong narrowing effect.

Those who accept your invitation will have self-identified as being troubled about that problem. You must be careful to ensure that your event or white paper lives up to the promise and raises real concerns that only you can address. When the market matures you might have more information about the buyers and therefore be more targeted in your solicitations, but for now, you need a tactic that can reach a wide audience, and use the copy to narrow your market.

An exit survey (after your seminar or white paper) might also help to further qualify your leads.

Don’t forget to use a registration process to collect names and contact details if you intend to re-contact your prospects.

Avoid the two customer-killers:

  • Promoting the solution rather than the problem in your white paper or seminar. You need to dwell on the issue that’s concerning your potential customer, use the registration process to obtain names and other contact details.

  • Broadly worded invitations. The mistake here is that you believe you will pull in more prospects. But remember, it’s the straight, well-aimed arrow that will fly straight to the target. Just because you choose a broad tactic like advertising or PR, doesn’t mean you want everyone and anyone to respond.

“Flushing” is not about finding names – it’s about finding the right names.

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