SMB is not a market

You’d be surprised how often clients describe their market as “SMB” (small and medium businesses). Or the “Fortune 500.” Or “IT executives.” It’s the marketing equivalent of sending someone to the store with the instruction “bring me back some groceries.”

You end up spending a lot of money and not getting what you wanted.

It’s easy to understand why it happens. Many executives worry that they might take legitimate opportunities off the table if they define their market too narrowly. They lose sight of the fact that the buckshot approach is not only expensive and inefficient, but it actually results in fewer sales and a lower rate of customer acquisition than a more targeted approach. Why? Because it disconnects your business strategy from your source of revenue: the Buyer.

Good targeting, like good strategy, focuses on one thing: driving to the point of revenue, faster.

That means clearly understanding who your buyer is, and focusing your time and precious resources on selling to that person. It’s not about contact lists or SIC codes, and it’s not about demographics or company size. These can be helpful for buying advertising, but not so helpful if you’re trying to establish a meaningful connection that will motivate buying.

Effective targeting is about going deeper. It’s about finding a set of people who have a common problem you can uniquely solve. It’s about pinpointing the behaviors, motivations, and concerns of your best prospects. It’s about knowing your target so well you could almost predict what they’re going to have for lunch.

We like to tell our clients about the “Mary rule.”

Not too long ago we were working with a software company that was just killing it, taking share from much larger and more established competitors. We asked them how they were doing it. They said it was all about Mary. They knew their target so well they were able to give her a name, and everyone in the company felt they knew her personally—her aspirations, motivations, challenges, psychographics, etc. Mary, although she was only a composite, was able to help guide positioning, campaigns, and selling. She connected the people in this company with their buyers in a very powerful way.

You’ll find that effective targeting doesn’t narrow opportunities—it opens new doors. One of our clients, Citrix Online, built a very successful franchise focusing on small businesses, and small teams in the large enterprise. However, the constraints of this broad focus were preventing them from breaking through to the next level of growth. Through our work together we discovered they weren’t targeting “small businesses,” but rather organizations that were eager to embrace a new way of working, whether they were a 1-person consulting firm, a 30-person department or a massive multi-national organization.

The key is to go beyond simple characteristics and get to the things that define behavior and motivate action. Why do your customers buy your product? Chances are it isn’t because they are a CIO or because they work in a Fortune 500 company.

So get deep.

Sit down with your best customers and ask them a lot of questions. Then look for the patterns. As soon as a clear picture starts to emerge, a picture that others can see as well, you’re getting close.