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Do you need new customers to grow your sales? To get a new customer they must first be aware you are there. What is your business doing to ensure customers find and come to you for their needs? 

New businesses with little previous exposure to, or knowledge of, a new market must identify promising market segments and find potential prospects within those segments to grow their business. Established businesses that know something of the market may already know many potential prospects.

Rating prospects

After you have identified a list of prospects which ones should you pursue? Given limited and finite resources it is important to focus efforts on the best prospects. One effective way to do this is to rate and rank any prospects. Ask, what makes a "good" or "ideal" customer for your business? You can use the characteristics of an "ideal" customer as the criteria for rating and prioritising prospects. The criteria you choose will depend on the context of your business, and may include: 

Rating Ranking Action
> 50 Hot Prospect sales calls
25 - 49 Prospect direct mail, phone call
< 25 Hold hold

Prospects can be scored against each of the criteria and an overall rating obtained. It is then possible to rank prospects on their attractiveness in order to take appropriate actions and allocate resources cost effectively. For example: 

Know what you are marketing

How a business goes to market will vary depending on the context and what they are marketing. Consumer products, industrial products and services have different characteristics, which affect the way they are marketed. 

Consumer products

For a consumer goods company, segmentation, brand building and image are particularly important. 

Industrial products

Industrial companies are more likely to be involved in business-to-business (B2B) markets. This is typified by fewer (larger) buyers, professional purchasers, committee decision-making and gate-keepers. It is important to know who all the key players are, their characteristics, their needs and how to navigate them. These relationships and purchasing cycles can operate over long time scales, such as large infrastructure projects. B2B marketing tends to focus on value and known drivers, such as quality, reliability, etc. 

Services

Services involve intangibles and it is important to understand the value proposition of the service and work hard on what the intangibles deliver, such as accuracy of advice, expertise, etc. Many services are word-of-mouth businesses and are based on a small number of differentiators Eg. reputation, expertise, client focus, availability, degree of individuality or customisation. It can take time for a service company to establish its reputation. Differentiation of services is based on the quality of people and can be lost if they leave. Services can also vary in their delivery to customers, particularly when the customer participates in or co-creates in the service process, which makes the achievement of consistent service quality paramount for service businesses.

Raising awareness

A new product or service is unlikely to sell its self. How you market it and raise awareness will depend on who you are trying to reach and what you are selling – 

Few customers                     ↔                    Many customers 

One off transaction               ↔                    Lifetime customer 

Low involvement                  ↔                    Heavy involvement 

If the product or service is complex, high risk, new or a first time buy it can require a lot of search and heavy involvement of the customer. 

There is no magical Word of Mouth (WOM) process and it can be hard work to raise awareness. You must find effective ways to communicate to your potential customers: 

  • That you are here!
  • What your value proposition is and how it beats the competition

What are you marketing? What will customers value in your offer? Is it: 

  • Cheap
  • Quality
  • Reliability
  • Continuing innovation
  • Design, aesthetics
  • Lifetime costs
  • Environmental
  • Convenience
  • Exclusivity
  • Security
  • Safety
  • Fun

Once individual prospects are identified they can be targeted using direct marketing approaches, which are often more cost effective than broader "shotgun" advertising strategies.

Segmentation

Segmentation is a useful way of thinking about customers when you have a lot of them, and particularly applies to consumer product markets. Segmentation is used to deal with the non-uniformity of large markets by developing separate relationships with separate groups who have similar needs. 

Occasions drive purchasing behaviour and you can segment by people and occasions: 

  • Purchasing for different occasions
  • Stage in buying process
  • Timing relative to competition

You should look for a segment(s) where you can build competitive advantage. For this a segment needs to be: 

  • Sustainable - How long will it last?
  • Distinct - What are its differences?
  • Substantial - Is the segment big enough?
  • Actionable - Can you find and research it?

It pays to do the segments you can and do the best segment first, before progressing to the second, third, etc. When targeting more than one segment, consider how the way you target one segment can affect the other segments?

Small businesses

Small businesses face particular challenges finding new customers. Market knowledge is critical, but small businesses have limited resources and expertise. Complex "textbook" marketing theory, based on large Multinational's, is not always appropriate for small businesses and their marketing tends to be more informal (whoever's around) and un-planned. But small companies must still find ways do the basics: 

  • Understand customers needs and how to create value for them
  • Communicate value to customers
  • Maintain value and relationships

Small firms can get benefits from using lower cost new technology options. Eg. email, Skype, on-line video, social networking, etc. Email is a popular, fast and low cost method of "push" marketing, although there are some issues to consider: 

  • There is a problem with customers turning off from too many emails and it can be difficult to stand out and cut through
  • Companies are getting good at blocking unsolicited enquiries and make it difficult to contact their buyers directly
  • Sending too many unsolicited communications can impact a brand

However, there are ways to overcome some of these difficulties. One way is to use referrals, as most people do read communications from their most trusted sources, particularly from people they know. 

Websites are a form of "pull" marketing and are particularly appropriate for customers and users who search the web for their information. Eg younger engineers, purchasing officers, etc. Websites also offer the ability to track usage and performance. However, it is important to think through how your targeted customers will find your website among the millions out there? Website optimisation and pay-per-click adverts can increase traffic from people actively engaged in searching for your product or service. 

Word-of-mouth (WOM) effects can be very effective in raising awareness. Networking and eWOM, discussion forums, blogs and social media offer channels for WOM. Businesses thinking about using social media as a marketing channel should research how relevant social media is for their targeted customers. How many of your customers use and are likely to follow you on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin? If unsure it may be worth considering a trial first. 

Finally, if you are a small business you may ask whether you can afford marketing and whether it is worth it? For many small businesses the most important things for growing sales are: 

  • Networking and relationships
  • Sales management
  • Getting out and about

Take advantage of personal networks to get advice from people who understand what you are about and can help you develop and refine your offer. 

Have you got sales expertise? If not, do you need it? If sales resources are needed, consider sales competence and the ability to identify customer problems and communicate what you offer to solve them. This requires people with good PR and social skills, the ability to deal with customer questions on the fly and the ability to close a sale.

How active do your sales staff need to be?

When seeking new customers and orders it is important that sales staff understand their numbers. In particular: 

  • The average time it takes to convert a first-time sales call into a sale
  • The number of telephone calls required to gain an appointment for a first-time sales call
  • The number of sales calls needed to gain a new order

From these numbers sales staff can determine the level of activity needed today to achieve their targeted sales budget in future sales periods. 

For example: 

New customer Sales Target $50,000 /week
Average order $10,000
Number of orders required 5 / week
Average number of proposals required to win an order 3:1
Number of proposals required 15 / week
Average number of visits required to find an opportunity for a proposal 2:1
Number of visits required 30 / week
Average number of phone calls required to schedule a first appointment (first-time sales call) 3:1
Number of phone calls required 90 / week or 18 phone calls a day
Average lead-time from phone call to sale 3 months

Based on these numbers KPIs for the required number of telephone calls and sales calls can be set, and monitored, to ensure the required level of sales activity is undertaken today to generate the targeted level of new sales in future periods. In the example above, if sales do not make at least 18 phone calls a day they will not achieve their budget for new sales in three months time.

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 big@aigroup.com.au