Now Where Did I Put Those Prospects, Anyway?

Twentieth century career bank robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980) has been attributed with responding to a reporter’s question about why he robbed banks with a pithy (albeit obvious) “because that’s where the money is!”  A little research on my part found that Sutton denied ever saying that, instead claiming the reporter needed something clever to punch up the story.  For his part, Sutton claimed he robbed banks because, well, he loved robbing banks.  The loot was secondary to the thrill.  Far be it from me to attempt to analyze his thinking on the matter.  Instead, I want to turn the phrase to a more useful—and decidedly more legal—purpose: talking about finding potential customers for your business.

Every marketing campaign and sales effort should have at its core the objective of finding out where the money is, but that’s not always easy to do.  Often, efforts that seem to be tightly focused on new business development miss the mark.  There are lots of reasons why this happens.  At the top of that list is not knowing where they’re hiding in the first place.  Since we’re finally seeing a glimmer or two of spring, look at it in homeowner terms: when the ants start to wake up for the season or when mice decide they like your place a lot better than their old one, chances are you get your preferred pest elimination solution, find out where they’re coming from or consistently marching through, and set it down where all the action is.  Pests check in but they don’t check out, etc.

Your end goal is different but the notion is the same: figure out where they’re coming from, where they might be going to, and what the path to their journey’s end is.  Then you need to make sure you’re there.  Said another way, you need to know what the profile of your prospective customers are (age, location, interests, gender, needs, etc.), what their key pain points are (better/faster internet, a fine dining experience, a steady supply of office supplies, etc.) and how they like to buy (online, shopping malls, in-home or in-office, catalog, etc.)

This effort matters, because there is so much background noise in marketing to consumers and businesses these days, that the wrong stuff aimed at the wrong targets in the wrong places, is money better spent on your local non-profits.  Gaining this knowledge sounds daunting, but it doesn’t need to be.  Start with directional accuracy and keep refining from there.  I like to start by looking at who my current customers are and understand why they are my customers in the first place.  This doesn’t mean they will be the only kind of customers you can eventually reach, but, well, to paraphrase what Mr. Sutton didn’t say, you know that’s where at least some of the money is.

Look at sales records to understand what they have been buying and take note of patterns you may observe in timing or behaviors.  Identify the kinds of businesses your customers have and in what industries. Look up their revenue and employee counts. (There are a number of useful databases with information of varying accuracy, but still useful.)  Send them a survey with questions about why they buy from you and how they make their decisions.  Call key contacts and ask them these same questions live.  A little information can go a long way to informing your programs.  Once you’ve got some data, build out a model of your target customer type(s).  These personas as they’re often called, will act as your “wanted poster” for tracking down others like them.  With these personas in hand you can ask the hard questions about whether a particular program does—or even can—target these effectively.  In what I’ve called the New York Times effect back in the days when I did a lot of print advertising, I was always asked why I wouldn’t consider an ad in say, the Times or the Wall Street Journal.  I had the budget, but when you look past the millions of copies distributed and drilled down to the demographics of the readers compared to our buyers, the cost to reach those few who matched our buying profile became astronomical and foolish. Now we have many tools at our disposal to narrowly target and clearly measure the response from our potential buying pool.  Learning use them is fairly easy, but the real power is in knowing where your potential buyers are, and going to them with your message.

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