Identifying Your Target Market

Last Updated May 29, 2007 7:00 PM EDT

It's likely that you already have a pretty good idea about the individuals, groups of individuals, or types of businesses that you think you can sell your products or services to. Individual prospects might be people of a certain age, gender, socio-economic status and occupation. Prospective groups of people might have common interests such as similar interests in sports or hobbies. Prospective business customers might be located in a specific geographic area or in a particular sector, one that is a prime area for you to enter.

Once you have pinpointed a target group of people or businesses, you'll have completed an essential first step in profiling your market. Now you have your list of target prospects—your ideal customers.

What You Need to Know

How do I identify my target customers?

Profiling a target market starts with identifying precisely just who your audience is:

  • Can you accurately describe the characteristics of your ideal customers?
  • Which clients currently spend the most with you?
  • Why do they spend their dollars with you and not your competitors?
  • How many potential customers are there?

If you don't know the answers to these questions, find out!

Most important: quality or quantity of prospects?

It's about quality, hands down! A precision-driven marketing approach directed toward a very specific high-quality and carefully selected list of prospective clients or leads will—dollar-for-dollar of resources spent—prove to be far more productive and profitable than any untargeted blanket approach to generating sales.

Why is profiling so important?

The quality of your business leads, based on your understanding, knowledge, and careful profiling of your customers and their needs, will dramatically increase your ability to convert them into sales. Indeed, this niche marketing approach is now so dominant that a business that disdains it might have difficulty raising seed money or attracting quality workers and suppliers, let alone attracting customers.

What to Do

Pinpoint Customers' and Prospects' Needs and Wants

Selecting your ideal customers is an essential step one. Step two is equally important, if not more so: Gaining a clear and precise understanding of:

  • what these ideal customers want and need, and
  • exactly what you are going to offer them—and why.

This understanding will enable you to develop the specific marketing message and sales or business "proposition" that will most effectively sell the benefits of your product or service.

If you get these messages wrong, odds are that your marketing efforts will fail; your customers will either buy from your competitors instead or won't buy at all. You simply cannot afford to have you product, service or business proposition miss the target completely.

Speak to Target Customers First—And Listen!

Before you start building your marketing strategy, it's always worthwhile to speak first to a sample of your target customers. By doing this, you will affirm that the profile of your intended market is the right one. This will also afford a golden opportunity to test your assumptions about what you think your customers want, why they could buy from you, and at what price or price range.

There are several standard ways to obtain the opinions you seek:

  • gather a "focus group" and speak—and listen!—to them directly;
  • conduct a survey by circulating a questionnaire among a sample of target customers—either by mail or email or by telephone;
  • talk to random passers-by in a location that is frequented by your ideal customers, using the same questionnaire.

Don't forget about one more important target group, your existing clients; even better, clients of your competitors (as difficult a task as that may be). These opinions are helpful, too.

Ensure You Are Providing What They Want

Armed with a thorough understanding of your ideal customers' needs, you're now in position to create the sales or business "proposition" that will convince them to buy the product or service you intend to offer. You and your colleagues need to ask: "Why should customers do business with us, instead of someone else?" The answer should be based on:

  • Exactly what they want from you
  • Precisely when they need it
  • In a way that is convenient for them
  • At a price they can afford and are prepared to pay

If you are not convinced that your sales proposition meets all four of these criteria, then you'll need to study the profile of your customers again and revise your plans accordingly.

Review Your Marketing Message To Be Sure It's on Target

Consider carefully whether there is anything else that will make your marketing message even more appealing. Will it convince customers that your organization can provide the benefits that meet their exact needs?

Review Your List of Prospective Customers, Too

Your prospects list needs to be as precise as possible. Its value as a marketing tool depends on how accurately it reflects the profile of your target customers and the details it contains. For example, if you're selling a consumer product, does your list identify the geographic and demographic profile of your ideal customers? Their employment status? Professions? Household income? Special interests? Club memberships? Or, if you're selling to other businesses, does your list show where your target firms are located? Their sizes? Names of the primary purchaser? How often they purchase? The best sales channels for reaching these target customers?

Your sales efforts can only be as good the prospects list you have selected and compiled. That list also must match the profile of the audience you expect your marketing proposition to convince.

What to Avoid

You Don't Test the Market

The most common mistakes businesses make when targeting products and services toward specific customer groups result from not testing their underlying assumptions. In short, what evidence do you have that proves you're on the right track? Testing enables you to either affirm your profiling is right or to adjust your offering until you get it right.

You'll waste valuable time and marketing dollars if you launch a campaign that has not accurately identified who your target customers are. Further, if you cannot precisely define what these customers want and why they should buy from you instead of from your competitors, you really have no fundamental message for your target market.

You Have the Wrong Focus

Do not buy a list of unknown prospects! Never mind how attractive it may seem to be getting the names of thousands of people you can approach quickly. Qualify any list that you buy. Ask many questions. Find out precisely who these thousands are, where they're located—then test the answers against your target market parameters.

Being precise will lead to more sales more quickly, and more profits over the long term.

Where to Learn More

Book:

Lodish, Leonard M., Howard L. Morgan, and Shellye Archambeau. Marketing That Works: How Entrepreneurial Marketing Can Add Sustainable Value to Any Sized Company. Wharton, 2007.

Web Site:

American Marketing Association