How to define your best customers

Recently we surveyed our loyal readers at, and asked them what they would rank as this year’s top sales challenges in their respective organizations. We were really pleased with the feedback we received (and a big thank you to everyone who participated!) To share the results with everyone, we’ve compiled a new series of articles, called “Five great ways to send your sales skyrocketing.” Each article will look at one of the top questions asked, and I’ll share my thoughts on finding great solutions that help you join the ranks of the top-ranked sales performers in organizations of all sizes…and stay there!

“How do I find great customers?” This is one of the most common questions asked in our poll, and it’s one that I hear often in my discussions with people during the sales training sessions I conduct. Indeed, there are steps you can take here, but first you really need to stop and ask yourself “who would I consider to be a great customer?” This is important. It’s too easy to pin all the blame on your customers for not behaving the way you want them to, when really it ought to come down to matters of choice and expectations on your part. Rather than wasting your time complaining that too many of your clients are needlessly cheap or are hard to sell to, ask yourself why you keep going back to these same people again and again, somehow expecting a different result than what you’d experienced before.

Develop a profile of what you would consider an ideal customer. That’s the first step. Next, focus your efforts on attracting the attention of that kind of customer. There’s no rule that says everybody has a right to buy from you equally. Granted, there are times when you need new revenue no matter what, and often tends to be when you wind up taking on customers who are entirely opposite to the ones that fit your definition of ideal…simply because, well, they’re easier to find.

When that temptation arises, remember this: it pays to be choosy. Closing is faster and easier when you’re only trying to sell a round peg to a round hole. When your target market is well-focused, you spend far less time struggling. You’re no longer devoting large chunks of your time, talking to customers who don’t want to listen. Instead, leapfrog over the competition by focusing on people you enjoy selling to. You’ll reduce the amount of objections you encounter, and you’ll gain more repeat sales because you’ll be dealing with people who want to have a long-term engagement with you.

Once you have a profile of your ideal customer, the next step is to look at who you sell to and determine how many of them meet that profile. Go through your customer database, and once you have a list of the best—it could be a dozen or it could be in the hundreds of customers—ask yourself what they all have in common. Are they privately held businesses or are they couple of publicly traded? Are they government organizations or are they consulting companies? Are they international or they domestic? Are they all run by women? Are they all small businesses or they large corporations business? Once you’ve found the common thread that weaves together this “best of the best” customer list, use the same criteria when reviewing those who are in your prospect database.

Let’s look at an example. One of our platinum-level clients, Donald, attended our 2008 Sales Mastery Workshop in 2008 in Chicago. He introduced himself and talked about the small staffing agency that he owned. When he first started working with Engage, he explained that his goal for the next year was to achieve $1 million in sales. We took a look at his database to develop his target market, and we discovered that all of his best customers fit into one specific niche market. So here’s what we advised: “Go after that market and be the number-one provider to all of the companies that have this particular need.” Next, we recommended that he look at expanding that group. We said: “Okay, if all of these customers are food producers then could you also look at the beverage producers? Could you also look at dairy? How about the pet food industry?” Then we started branching off into those kinds of sub-niches based on that one target he was pursuing.

As a result, Donald achieved and exceeded his target by 90 per cent. He wanted to reach a million in sales. He achieved $1.9 million instead. He did that by narrowing-in on who he was selling to, and then selling more to that market because the sale became effortless. He was able to displace his competition because he was a specialist in that area. I’m particularly proud of Donald’s accomplishment because he achieved this record-smashing growth at a time when the market in which he was operating (the HR market) was being decimated by the recession.

Targeting isn’t just effective for smaller-sized companies. It can also have a positive effect on larger-sized firm as well. At our most recent Sales Mastery Workshop (and don’t forget to sign-up for our newest one at, I spoke with three participants from a Fortune-500 sized company. We talked about how they could each apply a tighter focus on targeting. The outcome was: “I’m only going to focus on chemical companies…I’m only going to focus on produce companies…and I’m going to focus on consumer package goods.” Each of these sales reps had a different product and a different market, but all three were able to find ways to become specialists in one area.

So how do you attract the attention of your ideal customers? In essence, find out where they hurt, or what keeps them awake at night. For example, let’s look at one of my favorite brands, Harley Davidson. This is a company that knows exactly who their target customer is. What’s implicit in their unique selling proposition is this: “To hell with it all, let’s ride.” They don’t care whether their value proposition appeals to people outside of that target range. They deliver something that matters to a well-defined demographic.

Find what works best for you. Whether it’s focusing on a specific geographic area, product specialty, service offering…the possibilities are endless. They key is find customers you enjoy working with and vice versa, determine their needs, and concentrate on selling to them in a manner that fulfills those needs.

Colleen Francis has been a successful sales leader for over 20 years. She is the author of Nonstop Sales Boom, and is recognized as a top tier sales consultant. She understands the challenges of selling in today’s market and that business leaders can no longer rely on approaches to sales based on techniques from decades ago. In this blog series she will share her experiences and predictions as she looks towards the evolving sales landscape. 

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