As a business, you have the complete freedom to market whatever-you-do to whomever-you-want.
Unfortunately, selling whatever to whomever is typically not a sound business strategy, which is why I advocate for clearly defining your professional “sweet spot.”
How does that work out on a practical level? Let me walk you through a simple 4-dimensional process I use (actually, I cheated and added a fifth. Sue me… ;>)
For an example, I’m going to highlight a sector where I have some longstanding business expertise (pharmaceutical sales training). Let’s consider a make-believe company named “Training Acceleration Partners” (I just Googled that to make sure it wasn’t a real company!). The tagline for T.A.P. is, “Training That Means Business.” They offer “training solutions that impact performance for Fortune 500 companies.”
Now, I could be wrong here, but I’m thinking that this leaves things just a wee bit too broad – or, to put it bluntly, I have little idea what T.A.P. does and who they do it for. So let’s try to make things clearer by defining the company identity in 4 dimensions:
Dimension #1 – Your target Domain
Most companies have some kind of domain expertise – that is, a certain area of knowledge/business in which they have experience and strength. It could be Education, Auto Manufacturing, Energy, Financial Services, Consumer Products – any of a number of verticals. Turns out that Training Acceleration Partners has its strongest track record, and its most profitable clients, in the Pharmaceutical/Life Sciences industry. T.A.P. has a chance to gain prominence in that sector, far more that in some other verticals where it has dabbled. So, maybe it’s time to narrow to a singular focus on the Domain level. That’s clarity step number one. You’re not equally valuable in every market.
Dimension #2 – Your target Function
Life Sciences is a big field. There’s the R&D side, the Clinical side, the Corporate/HR side, the Commercial side. And, within Training, there are multiple functions and subspecialties. But as it turns out, one area that T.A.P. is really making customers happy with is found on the (Commercial) Sales Training side, specifically a set of programs for developing Key Account Managers. It’s also a functional area that could expand into some other domains in the Life Sciences vertical, such as Biotech and Medical Devices. T.A.P. has already built a potentially dominant niche on the horizontal level that has plenty of growth opportunity – so it’s time to bring greater focus on the Function level. That’s clarity step number two. You don’t do everything.
Dimension #3 – Your target Buyer
Of course, not all potential clients are created equal. Who is the most likely buyer of your offering (and that includes the ability to pay for it)? Individual consumers? Small businesses? Large businesses? Retail outlets? In T.A.P.’s case, it will generally be the large and mid-sized pharmas that have big enough field sales forces to deploy Key Account Managers. So T.A.P. shouldn’t waste their time on barely-birthed biotechs or niche specialty drug manufacturers. Clarity step three is defining your real, desirable customers, and ensuring that your offerings and messages are tailored precisely there. Not everyone is a customer.
Dimension #4 – Your target Location
Are you servicing only local clients? Regional? National? Global? Entirely different approaches and messages have to be considered depending on the geographical scope of your business. T.A.P. realizes that theirs is a national sale; but because they don’t yet have enough personnel, and because Key Account Management roles are spotty at best in other countries, it is wisest for the time being to stick to U.S.-based clients. Get clarity about where your most likely customers can be found. Your customers have coordinates.
These 4 dimensions are what you brainstorm through to map out a clear and specific company direction. You’re not providing “something” to “anyone.” You need to figure out your sweet spot, your customer, your differentiated offering – then you create your messaging and marketing, based on your unique “fit.” What’s your market[place]?
All right, we’ve narrowed down our aim so that we have a clear target market. Now, to accelerate growth in the right direction…
(Bonus) Dimension #5 – Your advocates
Once you know who you are and what business you’re pursuing, you should then pour maximum effort into building your existing advocates. They will become your greatest catalysts to new business opportunities. This fifth step is not so much on business definition, as it is going tactically after your lowest-hanging fruit. If your advocates love you for your “sweet spot” offering, then they’ll take your clearly-defined message and spread it.
Now – plug in YOUR business. Can you trace out your vertical and horizontal axes? What do your customers love you for? Where are you making real money? Where’s the biggest market opportunity that fits your knowledge and abilities? Who is your ideal client?
Obviously, some businesses won’t fit neatly into just one category on each dimension. Sometimes a functional offering will cross a number of verticals, or there may legitimately be a wide variety of potential clients. And sometimes a business has more than one offering to more than one audience.
In fact, I have two entirely separate 4-dimensional maps – one for my pharma consulting, and one for my Clarity Therapy practice. But I have found many companies are adrift and unfocused simply because some of these basic dimensions have never been clearly defined at all. Most companies are tempted to throw out too wide a net, with the result that there is no clear target – and no message that sticks.
So, let’s help Training Acceleration Partners (T.A.P.) out. Their current tagline is “Training That Means Business,” which we now see is far too generic based on the exercise above. It has no domain; the functional area is too broad; the WIIFM promise is diffuse; the target market is unknown. How would you re-write their summary, in 10 words or less?? Give it a try in the comments – clearly, they need some fresh creativity from the smart marketers in my audience! :>}