To be successful in selling, you need to find a market for your products and/or services where you can become a dominate figure—either locally, regionally, or nationally.
Almost all of us sell a product or service that crosses industries, geographic areas, demographic boundaries, or other criteria. For example, an insurance agent can focus on homeowner’s insurance, auto, business, life, benefits, and numerous others. These can be further broken down into smaller segments. If he/she concentrates on business insurance, they may focus exclusively on small businesses. Broken down further, they may decide to specialize in working with small contractors in the commercial construction business. An even greater specialty would be to concentrate on companies that work specific segments of construction—say, plumbers and HVAC contractors.
Why specialize? Because you can become intimately familiar with the needs and problems associated with the companies or individuals in your specialty. Specialization gives you the opportunity to become a part of the industry segment you’ve specialized in. You subscribe to the industry publications, you attend the industry meetings, you mingle with the industry players, and you visit the companies that work in the industry. Within a relatively short period of time you’ve learned a great deal about the industry, who the major players are, what their needs and issues are, and you’ve made significant contacts within that industry.
Do you specialize in selling key-man insurance? Are you a business banker? Accountant? Attorney? Maybe advertising is your product? How many homebuilders are in your area? Printing companies? Manufacturers? Small retail stores? Probably hundreds of each within a reasonable distance. What would happen if you, as a business banker, became known as THE GUY or GAL to go to for financing because you know and understand like no other business banker in the area the homebuilding business or independent auto repair shops? You wouldn’t be beating the streets everyday looking for someone, anyone you can tackle and talk to. Your phone would be ringing off the hook.
Find a day that you can devote to analyzing your market. Look at your book of business. Where do you seem to have the most “luck” in finding new clients? What industry? What size company? What geographic areas? Take a hard look at the industries or areas that stand out. Is there a broad enough base to specialize in that industry or area? If not, is there a second that you can also specialize in?
Once you believe you have found an area where you can become the expert, go to the research area of www.businessresearchdatabase.com and subscribe to that industry’s magazines (they’re probably free). Look up the industry associations and consider which to join—and while you’re there, do some in-depth research on the industry. Make a list of those companies in the industry you already do business with. Make a list of the companies you’d like to be referred into. Talk to your existing customers in the industry and try to get referred into the companies you’d most like to sell.
Declaring that you intend to “niche market” won’t generate the volume of sales or create the reputation you’re seeking unless you are willing to invest a significant amount of time, energy, and, maybe, money into the process. Like any other part of selling, if you’re not willing to pay the price to be successful, you’re sure to fail. Since you have determined one of more areas that you believe are going to be your targets, learn everything you can about the industry, the major players, your competition, and complementary products sold to your prospects. As it sounds, this is a big task. Nevertheless, if you intend to establish yourself as an expert, you’ll have to do the hard work necessary to become an expert.
First, go to Google and search for the industry associations of your target market. At this point, you’re not looking to join anything—you’re looking for information. Specific information you’re looking for is: is there a chapter in your area? If so, what kind of meetings do they hold, how often, and where. Who are the major players, on a national level in the industry? If there is a local chapter website, investigate it for who the major players are locally. What companies, both competitors and non-competitors, sponsor association events, advertise on the site, or have booths at the association’s events? Try to find useful statistics—size of market, comparison of current market to past year’s volume, and other economic data. Look for forecasts and projections. Are there current or past articles from the association’s publications? If so, read them and note who wrote the articles. In particular, if there is a local or state chapter website read their publication’s articles and note the authors.
Second, use Google again to investigate individual companies. If they are a public company, you shouldn’t have a great deal of trouble finding information on them; and, of course, the larger the company the more information you’ll find. If they are a private company, you may still find useful information through sites, such as, www.corporateinformation.com. Once you have rooted out information on the company, begin investigating the individuals within the company you may be dealing with. Again, on the research page, there are tools to help you do biographical research on millions of executives.
Third. On the association sites or through a Google search of the various banking and government economic data sites, investigate the economics of your chosen industry. Here you’ll find information that will give you a handle on the size of the market you’ve decided to specialize in, economic projections, and other pertinent economic data.
Fourth. Find your target industry’s publications on a site such as Amazon and subscribe to the relevant industry publications. Most all of these will be free. Each month you’ll have new marketing and prospecting ammunition. You’ll be kept informed of who’s doing what, who’s been promoted, the happenings within the industry, and, most importantly, the issues the companies within the industry face.
Fifth, take the list of competitors and non-competitors you discovered on the various association websites and investigate each. Note what products compete with yours and what products compliment yours. For both those that compliment and those that compete, try to discover the company’s reputation, pricing, delivery and sales terms, what ancillary products or services they sell, who their major clients are (companies will often put that information on their website), who their top salespeople in your area are (some companies advertise the winners of their in-house awards), and, if they are public, investigate their government filings to see if they have legal issues, if they have new products or services under development, any significant internal changes that have taken place recently or are planned for the near future, and examine their economic data.
Finally, compare your products and services side-by-side with your competitors, based on the information you found on their websites. Look for any advantages or disadvantages you and your company may have or that you can develop. Look not only at your competitor’s weaknesses, but also at their strengths. Also, don’t just look at your strengths; take inventory of your weaknesses. Developing a strategy to compete requires you to know who you’re
competing against and where you stack up against them.
Once you have your basic research completed, it is now time to put it all together to determine if your potential target market is sufficient to become your niche, If not, it may be possible to combine the market with one or possibly two relatively closely related markets to form a more broad based segment market. When analyzing your research there are several questions you must answer to determine the breadth and depth of the target market:
- How many prospective customers are within your geographic area?
- What has been the historical industry volume of sales in this geographic area?
- Does the majority of the potential prospects need or want your product or service IIs the market dominated by just a few companies or is the competition broad based?
- Who are your primary competitors within this market?
- From your analysis, can you position yourself and your product/service in the market within a reasonable period of time?
- What problems and issues do the prospects in the market face that you and your product/service can address?
- What are your competitive advantages in the market?
- What are your competitive disadvantages?
- What complimentary products or services are sold in the market by companies that are not direct competitors of yours?
- Which of these companies have superior reputations and significant market penetration?
- Do you know any of the salespeople within these companies?
To successfully niche market you must make sure that your target market is sufficiently large, that you have or can create a competitive advantage, that you can make some market penetration within a reasonable timeframe, and that there are companies with complimentary products/services that you might be able to team up with for joint marketing.
What if you discover your target market is dominated by two or three companies? You’ll need to investigate these companies a little further. Is one or more of the dominate players suffering from an image, delivery, reputation or financial problem that puts them in a vulnerable position? Is there a marketing advantage you can bring to the market? Is there some sub-market within the market that the major players are not servicing sufficiently?
How do you determine if you can penetrate the market within a reasonable timeframe? This is a question that you’ll have to make an educated guess at. What is your typical timeframe for a sale? If you have a long-lead sales process, say 4 months or greater, then do you believe you can close a few sales within 6 to 8 months? If not, can you afford to commit almost a year of time, money and no sales to a single market? Weighing the risk/reward ratio should give you your answer—assuming you can afford the commitment.
If your sales cycle is short—less than four months, you will need to make the same judgments as above, but with the advantage of a quicker feedback on your efforts.
Are there potential marketing partners you can team up with? Creating a marketing partnership with a salesperson who sells complimentary products or services for a company with a sterling reputation can help to boost your sales and image almost overnight. Never team up with a company that does not have the reputation, image, and market penetration that you desire to have. You want to increase your image and production, and teaming up with someone who does not have those assets will not help you at all—in fact, it may well hinder your efforts.
Once you have determined that this will be your, or at least one of your target markets, sit down and write a complete marketing plan. Determine exactly what you will need to do to accomplish your goals. Creating a plan will force you to think in detail of exactly how you intend to spend your time and money. How many prospects will you see every week? What do you have to do in order to get in front of these prospects? Cold call? Direct mail? Create an email campaign? Drop into businesses? Attend industry and association functions? A combination of the above? Exactly what will be your cold call script? What issues and problems are you going to solve? What is your “hook” (your short 30 second sales pitch?). Exactly what direct mail pieces will you use? Sales letters? Email letters? Exactly what meetings are you going to attend? Who, specifically, do you want to meet at the functions? How many cold calls will you have to make to set up appointments with the number of prospects you have determined to see? How many direct mailings? Emails?
Know exactly what steps you are going to take to get where you want to go. Some of these questions you may have to guess at—others you should know from your past history. Also, know exactly what steps you’re going to take and what it’s going to cost. Design your complete campaign before you make another move. Plan on sending 5 direct mail pieces over the next two quarters? Design them right NOW. Don’t wait because chances are it won’t get done. You plan on sending out four sales emails over the next two quarters? Write them right now. Plan on attending two association’s events over the next two quarters? Put them on your calendar right now. Know that each mailing will cost $123.14? Budget it right now. Know that each association meeting will cost $15.00? Put it in your budget right now.
Procrastination, lack of planning, taking a hit or miss approach to selling, and waiting until the last minute “to be flexible” has killed more sales careers than all other reasons combined. Knowing your goals is crucial.