I was brainstorming articles the other day by thinking in overly simplistic terms. The most important thing in business is getting people to hand you their money. I have heard from thousands of people interested in or trying to start a business who knew exactly what they wanted to sell but who were doomed to failure because they didn’t know who their customers would be. Finding customers who will give you their money is hard work.
For some people, the problem is closing the deal once you’ve got someone to talk to you. For others, the problem is knowing where to find these people who might become customers. When you start breaking it down, you get something like this:
- In order to find customers, you’ve got to figure out who are the best targets. We call this market research.
- In order to get their attention, you have to know who to target. We call this strategic planning.
- Before you get a chance to talk to them or sell to them, you’ve got to get their attention. We call this marketing.
- In order to get people to consider buying, you need to interact with them. We call this sales. When it’s in writing, we call it a proposal.
- In order to close the deal and get people to give you money, you must have acceptable terms and conditions. In its written form, we call this a contract.
Follow these five steps and it’s a formula for successful business. Consider how this impacts different kinds of businesses:
- You want to open a store. You need to find a match between your products and the potential buyers by matching locations and demographics. Once you pick the location, you need to figure out who your potential customers are (by location, demographics, profile, etc.). Then you need to consider vehicles for promotion (advertising, newspapers, websites, sponsorships, etc.) that will reach your chosen targets and craft a message that will get them to come to your store. Once they walk in the door, it’s all about sales. Everything from the layout to the fixtures to the interaction with your staff. In the retail environment, the closing process is the cash register, but if your posted policies are not acceptable you can lose the sale.
- You want to be a consultant. You need to figure out a match between the services you wish to offer and the people who need them. You need to make sure there are enough potential customers for you to get enough business. Once you know what space you are playing in, you need to identify the specific types of companies or people to go after. Then you need to figure out how you are going to find them and get in touch. Will they contact you or will you contact them? Once you are communicating with them, you need to convince them that they need your services. Once they agree, you need to spell out on paper what those services are and how they will be delivered. So you give them a proposal. If they accept the proposal, then you sign a contract and get to work.
- Web-based business. You need to find a match between what you want to sell and who you want to sell it to. No one will come to your site just because it is there. You need to figure out who you want to target and then figure out how to reach them and convince them to visit your site (email, search engines, etc.). When they get to your site you need to convert them from visitors to buyers. If you have a complex sale, you need to figure out how much of the closing will be automated and how much will be offline. You may be able to use a shopping cart or an automated proposal generator, or you may need to switch to a sales person/proposal close.
- You want to be a government contractor. You need to find a match between your capabilities and the agencies with a budget to purchase them. Then you need to figure out who the buyers are and what their acquisition process is until you know what specific contract vehicles to target. Then you need to research the customer, the opportunity, and the competitive environment. Along the way you need to establish a relationship with the customer so that they know your capabilities and qualifications. Finally, if the opportunity will result in an RFQ or RFP, you need to be prepared to submit a winning proposal. If your proposal is selected for award, it will result in a contract.
You’d be surprised how many people ask us for help writing a proposal when what they really need to do is strategic planning. You’d be surprised how many people want help getting customers when they haven’t even thought through how they go about their marketing. If you can identify which of the 5-steps you have neglected, then your problem may not really be “finding customers” This formula can help you focus your efforts, remove barriers, and open the door to your success.
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