Finding More of Those Perfect Customers
I have to admit I was disappointed. As an amateur artist who dabbles in collage and painting on weekends, I was looking foward to seeing the new Robert Rauschenberg paintings which had been recently acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. With one exception, the purchased pieces weren't representative of the artist's best-known work-collages using a variety of materials and his innovative solvent transfer technique. I'm sure the value of this collection will grow simply because of Rauschenberg's standing as an internationally recognized artist. However, I think the museum would have been wiser to spend its resources on fewer pieces, or even a single painting more representative of the artist's main body of work. These paintings surely will become many times more valuable over the years than the pieces acquired by the museum.
While profitability may not be a museum's main concern, it's a priority in business. The idea of putting resources toward work that has the biggest potential payoff is a fundamental marketing strategy: determine who your best customers are, then find more of them. Sometimes, however, this is easier said than done, particularly for companies whose sales forces are encouraged to make any sale, regardless of its appropriateness to core competencies.
There are several traits your perfect customers must possess. The volume of business they bring in is important. So, too, is the type of business. Jobs with the highest profit margins are usually the most desireable. The customer's history with your company is equally important. A long-term customer will be more valuable than a one-shot customer, regardless of the size of the job. After these three characteristics, other distinguishing features can be added. Does their geographic location impact their desireability? Are they easy to do business with? Are they equipped to make most efficient use of your services or do they require lots of hand holding?
Your customer database should provide you with most of these answers. If it doesn't, you should consider investing in one of the many, affordable sales management software packages on the market. For small to mid-sized companies, off-the-shelf programs such as ACT! and Goldmine may be adequate. They're easy to install and easy to use. There also are a number of sales management tools specifically developed for the printing industry, such as JOBZ!. These are more robust programs that integrate with existing production systems. There also are enterprise MIS programs, such as the Logic Covalent system, which combine sales, production and accounting functions into a single package.
Let's assume you're now able to prioritize your clients according to their sales volume, printed product and profitability, as well as by SIC code and other qualifying criteria you wish to apply. Armed with this data, you should now be able to build profiles of your optimum customers. Don't forget, the more detailed you can get-including job titles, zip codes, company size, etc.-the more targeted will be your search.
While building your customer profiles, keep your objectives in mind. You may only be interested in developing leads in a single sales territory. Or you may want to identify unmined industries. The research is useful for other purposes as well: One client used it to help him decide about an equipment acquisition, while another used it to convince his sales team to concentrate efforts on selling work that fit its two-color presses, rather than the multi-color work that was increasingly coming in the door.
Now that you have your optimum customer profile, the next step is to find prospects that match the profile. There a many resources from which to draw: magazine/periodical subscriber lists, organization membership lists, business lists like D&B's Marketplace, and, finally, dedicated list services such as American Business Information/Sales Leads USA, Data Marketing Network, American List Council, Creative Access, etc. Which list service you choose will depend on who you're after. If you're looking for designers in a specific region, you should look at lists primarily comprised of that population, such as Creative Access or the subscriber list of a designer-targeted publication.
When reviewing list resources, you should ask about their deliverable rate. All lists contain deadwood; a dependable list resource will tell you that percentage. Also make sure they can deliver the list in a format that's compatible with your own databases. Most are available in tab-delimited text, IBM or Mac compatible, which can be imported into most standard database programs. Finally, ask how often they update their lists and the method they use. Some actually update with personal phone calls, others simply rely on phone books or other secondary sources.
Other filtering criteria can be applied to your list order. For instance, if you're looking for marketing directors in large corporations that produce lots of direct mail work, you can further refine criteria by job title, number of employees and sales volume. Finally, most list services will provide you with a random sampling of the list you're considering. It's a good idea to conduct some test calls to this sampling to check the accuracy of the list.
Once you have purchased a list, you should further qualify prospects via phone or email surveys or direct mail campaigns. Companies seem to have a greater prospect-to-customer conversion rate if sales reps conduct the surveys themselves rather than telemarketers.
Smart, systematic prospecting begins with a clear picture of which customers and what products best fit your capabilities and company philosophy. Don't follow our museum's lead and settle for second-best.
Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.
© 1999 Charlotte Mills Seligman
July 15, 1999