[IMGCAP(1)]If we lived in a perfect world, the salespeople in your firm (and if you’re a principal, that’s probably you) would have an endless supply of qualified, ready-to-be-sold prospects itching to sign a contract with your company. Sadly, that world does not exist.

Sales professionals are often challenged by the need to develop X number of qualified leads to close Y number of sales. But as the low-hanging fruit dwindles and the stream of key prospects entering the sales funnel turns into a trickle, they can find themselves resorting to cold-calling, a thankless task that consumes precious time, energy and resources—usually with poor results.

There is a better way.

It starts with having a solid go-to-market (GTM) strategy. This should not be confused with a business plan. A GTM strategy is more tactical, focused specifically on what services you’re going to deliver, who you’re going to deliver them to, and how you’re going to differentiate yourself from the competitive pack while keeping your brand promise.

Let’s take a look at four fundamental steps for developing a GTM strategy that will help you grow your practice by better targeting your prospects:

1. Define Your Target Markets
Most firms start with the services they want to offer. This is a mistake because it focuses on the seller, not the client. Instead, think about the kind of problems you want to solve or which markets you want to be in. Defining your target before you define what you’re selling may sound backwards but consider this: which of these options would be more attractive to you as a buyer—something generic, or something you really need and value? 

When you think about the kinds of problems you solve, you are also identifying your target market—the individuals or companies that experience those particular problems.

Alternatively, you can begin with the market or markets you’d like to be in. Depending on your firm’s collective skill sets and experience, there may be several viable markets to target. Are there specific industries, niches or geographic areas that are underserved by your profession? These are potential target market candidates.

2. Profile Your Target Client
Think beyond who can use your service. Just because many people or companies could buy from you doesn’t mean you should target them all. Instead, consider which segments you can help most and which segments are most likely to be a good fit with your firm. Identify specific features that define that segment. For example, you might target manufacturing companies with over 500 employees, annual sales of $20 million to $50 million, and multiple product lines in a highly competitive market. Voilá! There’s your target client profile.

3. Narrowly Define Your Target Clients
Individuals or organizations possessing the characteristics, attributes or business structures of the profile you’ve just created are your target clients. Our research clearly shows that high-growth, high-profit firms are focused on having clearly defined target clients. The narrower the focus, the faster the growth. Conversely, the more diverse your target audience, the more diluted your marketing and sales efforts will be.

4. Research Your Target Client Group
Research helps you understand your target client’s perspective and priorities, anticipate their needs, and put your message in language that resonates with them. It also tells you how they view your firm and its position in the marketplace.

Research reveals the “pains” your prospects experience in their day-to-day business. With these insights you can talk about your offerings in ways that demonstrate you understand their pains and have a “cure” for them. You can also use this knowledge to create a unique, focused brand that sets you apart from the competition. Without research, however, you’ll be stumbling around in the dark, guessing at what your audience really wants.

Armed with a GTM strategy that clearly defines your target audience, you’ll be able to focus your marketing efforts on the right prospects—maybe for the first time. The result? You’ll attract more qualified business in less time with less spend and greater profitability.

Lee Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner of Hinge, a branding and marketing firm specializing in research on the professional services market.

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