THE BLOG
05/06/2013 06:54 pm ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

The most common concern I hear when I suggest narrowing the focus of a marketing or sales message is "If we do that, we might miss someone." That's why most messages sound like "we are the premier group for doing stuff." Some get more sophisticated and say, "We are the premier, global group for doing stuff." The people who fear they might miss someone are right. But, let me explain why that is a good thing. What if you are attracting an audience that is not likely to ever do business with you? In that case, you'll spend a small fortune chasing leads that do not convert into business.

In business-to-business marketing, volume is misleading. Let's say I give you a choice: A) You can get 100 leads; or B) You can get 20 leads. You might pick group A. Let's make it a bit more interesting. Let's say that group A is interested in your message at a 5 on a 1-to-10 scale, whereas group B is interested at an 8 on the same scale. Now which would you pick?

Statisticians use a calculation called Expected Return. So, if you followed the principle of expected return, you would get 100*5=500 vs. 20*8=160. So, even with this basic analysis, you might still pick group A. But, I'll tell you why these numbers are misleading, and why you are still better off with group B.

What Is the Hidden Key to the Analysis?

When you have a generic message, you gain interest at a superficial level. This means that most of the leads you generate do not have an issue that rises to the level to justify making a change or investment. However, when your message is specific, you capture the attention of the right audience (and intentionally miss those who are not a fit).

Fred Reichheld wrote The Ultimate Question (one of many of his publications), which established a question that is the best indicator of customer loyalty: "1-10, How likely are you to refer XYZ to a friend or colleague?" It is likely one of the first questions on any customer service survey. The research showed something remarkable. Anything at a 6 or below is considered a detractor. A score of 7 or 8 is considered neutral, and 9 or 10 indicates a term referred to as a Net Promoter. In essence, only the 9s and 10s are actively promoting you to friends and colleagues. Indeed, an entire industry has been born from this concept. If this concept is new to you, read Fred's book. If he could have said it all in a paragraph, he would have.

So How Does this Relate to Marketing and Sales?

As individual consumers, we can fall in love with an item and buy it "because we want it." Don't let that confuse you when it comes to business. In business, most decisions require justification. In my research, most business buyers feel they must identify a need that is greater or equal to an 8 (on that 1-to-10 scale) to justify a significant purchase decision. A generic message rarely captures attention beyond a 5. So, you end up attracting people who have some interest, but not enough interest to warrant an investment. I'll explain how to fix this dilemma below.

First, an Example?

Everyone is a potential customer for an alternative phone service. If you have been near a television in the past 90 days, you have certainly seen a commercial for Vonage. Their most successful campaign does not try to sell to the free world. Rather, the focus of their message is to appeal to those with "enormous phone bills." They know that young people with many international calls are the most likely to be adopters of their technology. If you don't fit that demographic, you may have ignored the spot. But, if you are in their demographic, you most certainly have noticed the advertisement. Instead of targeting "everyone," they target a small portion of the viewing audience... but use a message that hits them right between the eyes. Based on its advertising frequency, it has been a very successful campaign. Sure, everyone could save money with Vonage, but their target demographic has a higher sense of urgency.

Give It a Shot

Carefully describe the problem you solve for your ideal potential client. Clients can best identify with the problems you solve instead of the service you offer. When you go to the doctor with a problem, you want them to diagnose and treat the condition. You might not know what treatment you need. The same is true for prospects and clients.

My friend Jack Quarles of Buying Excellence can help just about any company more intelligently buy products and services. But, his ideal clients are companies spending \$500,000 or more annually on professional services who wonder if they are getting the right value for their investment, and recognize that capturing value is just as important as saving money. Target your audience that way, and you will find yourself in the enviable position or growing your business while wasting less time chasing bad deals.

What level do you think your clients have to be at to buy your products and services?