Your success in sales isn’t just about being able to close the deal. You might have a great product, an amazing pitch (see our sales pitch examples if you need help with that), and counterpoints to every common objection, but your odds of success are contingent upon a phase of your sales strategy that happens much earlier—the sales targeting phase.
If you’re giving a pitch to someone who doesn’t need your product, it doesn’t matter how eloquent you are, how many open-ended sales questions you ask or how many sales statistics you cite; they’re not going to be interested in buying.
By contrast, if you’re talking to someone who desperately needs your product, you’ll have an easy time persuading them to finalize the deal (see this list of the top 25 persuasion techniques).
Of course, sales targeting is a complex topic, and one that many sales strategists struggle with. In this guide, we’ll explore what sales targeting is, why it’s important, and the steps you’ll need to take to execute an effective sales targeting strategy.
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What Is Sales Targeting?
Sales targeting is the process of choosing the prospects most likely to buy your products, then orchestrating a strategy to appeal to them directly.
It means filtering out the people unlikely to buy your product, and dedicating your attention to only the people who matter to your business most.
You can think of sales targeting as using a bow and arrow, rather than a shotgun, to hit a target. The “shotgun” approach is akin to older sales and marketing efforts; professionals intended to land more sales by reaching as many people as humanly possible. They advertised to thousands, or even millions of people at once, with little regard for who those people were or how likely they were to appreciate the pitch.
The bow and arrow might seem weaker than the shotgun in this thought experiment, but it has a handful of important advantages. For starters, it’s much more precise; with the correct aim, you can pinpoint your target exactly. It’s also less likely to generate interference from incorrect targets.
Why Is Sales Targeting Important?
Setting this colorful illustration aside, sales targeting has several main benefits:
- Reducing wasted time. In many sales teams, productivity is a major point of consideration. If your salespeople are wasting their time chasing bad leads, they’re not applying their efforts where they’re needed most. A better sales targeting system will greatly reduce the total amount of time wasted within your sales team (and within your organization).
- Improving close rates. Improving your sales targeting will also improve your close rates, with little additional effort required. You’ll be talking almost exclusively to people most likely to buy from you, so you’ll win more deals.
- Taking advantage of the Pareto principle. The Pareto principle is an informal doctrine that suggests that 80 percent of the effects in a given system come from 20 percent of the causes. In your business, that implies that 80 percent of your revenue will come from 20 percent of your customers. Sales targeting helps you identify that most-important 20 percent, and appeal to those customers directly.
6 Steps to Creating a Sales Targeting Strategy
Now the question is, how can you practice sales targeting effectively?
We’ll break it down step-by-step.
Step 1: Choose the Right Targets
Your first step is choosing the right targets for your sales strategy. In many cases, this is the most difficult step; as a team, you’ll need to determine the demographics and personal qualities most likely to result in a sale, or most likely to return the most revenue to your organization.
Consider things like:
- Age. How old is your target customer?
- Gender. Are you more likely to sell to men or women?
- Location. Where are your target customers located?
- Education. Does your target have a high school education, a PhD, or something in between?
- Income. How much money does your sales target generate?
- Family status. Is your sales target married? Do they have kids?
- Occupation. Where does your sales target work? What is their job title?
If you’re starting from scratch, or if you’re questioning the sales targeting model you’ve used in the past, you might be confused about how to determine the “right” people to target. If you’re stuck, try looking in these areas:
- Existing customers. Think about your current customer base, and do some research with the data you currently have. Which customers in your current base generate the most revenue for your business? What qualities do they have in common? Which leads were the easiest to close? Document these qualities, and look for them in your future sales targeting approach.
- Competitors. If you don’t currently have customer data to examine, or if you want to verify your hypotheses, consider looking at your top competitors. What kinds of customers are targeted by businesses like yours? What are the target demographics of your closest competitors? You may not wish to copy these qualities exactly in your targeting strategy; it may be more advantageous to serve a niche that isn’t currently targeted by the competition. However, your research should help you more fully understand the most appropriate targets for your industry.
- Surveys and archived data. You can also learn more about your prospective target demographics by doing more direct research. For example, you can study statistics and findings from organizations like gov, or by conducting surveys with your current and prospective customers.
You may not select the perfect option in your first attempt; be open to changing your targets in the future.
Step 2: Segment Your Targets
If you’ve come up with multiple audience targets, or if your primary target is a broad cohort, you’ll need to consider segmenting your targets. Most sales teams benefit from splitting their targets into multiple, discrete subsections; this way, you can set up multiple marketing channels and/or assign different team members to different subsets.
For example, you might segment your primary target demographic into different phases of the average buying cycle; a customer might be labeled as being in the “research” phase, in the “consideration” phase, or in the “decision” phase. Your approach to this customer will vary, depending on which phase they’re in.
You can also build out buyer personas (aka customer personas), which are characteristic sketches of “typical” customers in each category. These can help your sales team better understand and better target the right people.
Step 3: Build in Variables
Within the same sales target demographic, there will be considerable differences between individuals. For example, one person who meets your ideal criteria may be on a tight budget, and unable to make a purchase of your product, while another may have a much looser budget.
If you want to be successful, it’s important to sketch out and describe the variables likely to play a role in determining your strategy’s success.
For example, are there common sales objections that halt otherwise promising sales opportunities? What are they, and how can you detect them early? How much do they impact your chances of success? Are there any approaches that can overcome these objections?
Step 4: Establish a Lead Flow
The next stage of the process is setting up a flow of leads. For your sales targeting strategy to work, you have to attract the right people from the outset. That typically means establishing marketing and advertising strategies that selectively bring the right people to you.
These are some of the strategies that can help:
- Choose the right social media channels. Some demographics and audience segments are more likely to use certain channels. For example, on Linkedin, you’re more likely to find business executives than high school dropouts. On Pinterest, you’re more likely to find young mothers than older single men. Understanding the demographic makeup of each platform and targeting the most appropriate channels can instantly improve your lead flow. Be sure to see our guide to social selling for more info.
- Write the most appropriate topics (content marketing). If you employ content marketing as a strategy, you can filter out audiences by writing more targeted content. For example, if you’re appealing to people who are interested in owning a franchise with limited experience, you can write a “beginner’s guide to buying a franchise.” You’re reading this article about sales targeting because salespeople are in our target audience 😉
- Pay for targeted ads. Most modern advertising platforms have an exhaustive list of options for targeting your ads. If you have the budget for it, you can pay to target people based on their demographic makeup, or even based on their online behavior. For example, you might be able to target people based on the types of sites they’ve visited in the past, or based on the keywords they’ve searched in the past few months.
- Nurture leads via email. If you use email marketing, you can also nurture leads with your drip email campaign. This is especially important if you attract lots of people who are early in the buying cycle, but you want to push them further into the next stages of the cycle. Relevant, targeted content is your best friend here.
There’s significant flexibility for creativity and experimentation in marketing, advertising, and sales, so consider adjusting your lead flow with other methods.
Step 5: Filter and Prioritize
Once you start attracting people to your brand, you’ll need some way to identify, filter, and prioritize them. Some channels do this for you automatically; for example, in an email marketing campaign, you’ll collect the names and basic information of your subscribers.
And based on the content you’re circulating in that campaign, you may be able to glean even more information from those prospects; for example, if they click a link in your email about “starting an online marketing campaign,” you may be able to categorize them as a beginner marketer. You can also gather information from prospects by collecting it via online forms.
Whatever your approach is, you’ll need to gather and consolidate your prospect and lead information, preferably using a CRM software. From there, you can prioritize which leads to go after based on the variables you’ve outlined in previous steps.
At this point, you should be well poised to close more sales and generate more revenue through your sales targeting strategy.
Step 6: Measure, Analyze, and Adapt
There is one final step to take, however, and it’s a recurring one: you need to take the time to measure, analyze, and adapt to the new information you gather.
What is your close rate for each target audience segment? How much revenue is each type of lead generating? How effectively does your lead scoring system predict your success rate? How effective are your lead generation strategies at bringing in the right types of leads?
There is room for improvement in each of these areas, but to improve, you need to understand your weaknesses. Use the metrics you gather to analyze your overall performance, and figure out the most important strategies to get better results. This is something you’ll need to do consistently, and indefinitely, so you remain on a path to constant improvement. It’s just one of many essential sales skills.
Now that you know how to create and execute a sales targeting strategy, are you interested in learning more about the customers and leads you interact with on a daily basis? Are you struggling to reach your sales targets without knowing what’s holding you back?
Consider using EmailAnalytics to learn more about your approach. With EmailAnalytics, you can dig into metrics like number of emails sent and received, average email response time, and average email thread length to determine the effectiveness of your sales strategy. Sign up for a free trial today, and tap into the power of your Gmail account as a sales channel!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.