Who Am I Selling To?

As an early stage company, figuring out who you should be selling to can be a challenge – you’ve run into a dozen really good sounding opportunities, your offering is fluid and you want to go where opportunities take you.

The key is to be both focused and nimble:  your target definition will change as you learn more about where and with whom your offering gains traction, but you need to work with targets you have identified long enough learn whether or not you will be successful with them.  Additionally, focus is critical in developing a pitch that resonates with prospects.

When identifying target market(s) you should answer the following four questions.

What Verticals Am I Selling To?

If your offering is vertical-specific (e.g. a productivity application for professional service firms, or big data tools for mining consultants.) you should think about your target markets as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ NAIC codes, and limit yourself to 2 – 3 verticals at at time.

Even if your offering has horizontal appeal (e.g. a social media CRM platform), it behooves you to pick 2 – 3 verticals that you think are more likely buyers of your product than others.  As you gain traction in a vertical, you will build out your industry expertise, understanding its challenges, needs and buying behavior, and be able to leverage this knowledge in future sales in that vertical.

What Company Size Am I Selling To?

You should identify a range of company sizes that you will target based on the nature of your offering, the verticals that y0u are selling into and a sense for what that company size’s buying process looks like.  The conventional breakdown of SOHO (small office, home office),SMB (small, medium business), SME (small, medium enterprise), and Enterprise provides good guidance – keep in mind that selling to large organizations can be a mind numbingly slow and fraught process; you may do better with organizations small enough that you can reach senior people that have the budget and authority to make a buying decision, but still large enough to benefit from your product.

If you are selling to government think about your targets along the same lines (local, county, state and federal).  Ditto with other institutions (e.g. size colleges by enrollment, religious or service institutions by number of sites or employee counts).

What Locations Am I Selling To?

It usually makes sense to start in your own backyard, or at least in your time zone; your first few sales may take live meetings and these are easier to manage if they are local.  Your offering may dictate where you sell; you should select geographies that provide a significant density of prospects (e.g. financial services – New York; creative services – Los Angeles) so that you can develop intelligence about the community that you are selling into.  This typically means selecting larger MSAs (metropolitan statistical areas) as your targets.

What Titles Am I Selling To?

Be smart about the titles you target, aiming high enough that you speak to someone who has the budget to make a purchase but junior enough that he understands the pain that you address.  In SMBs and SMEs calling high (into the C suite) and getting direction down to mid level folks can be effective, but be realistic about your ability to get in front of C level managers.  Very few C level individuals will spend time with someone selling a new and untested product and your charm and persistence is likely to rub the CEO the wrong way.

You may identify 2 – 3 titles that you need to pitch to, each with variants on the pain that you address.  And, identify titles that you will target should be part of a larger effort to describe the buyer persona that you will go after.

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