Targeting is one of those interesting areas that sometimes falls between the marketing plan (where market sectors and ideal clients are described) and selling (where attention is concentrated on converting leads generated by marketing).

At the other end of the scale, some firms simply have lists of named institutions and organisations that they want to get close to without thinking too hard about why – resulting in disparate targets which risk diluting effort. Here are my top tips for targeting to bring focus to your sales efforts.

1.     Marketing plan and segmentation – Ideally, the research and analysis during the marketing planning process will pin point the segments where you will find your target clients – and how. They may even have sourced some target lists for mailings. Yet whilst thousands of targets might be suitable for this purpose, it’s simply too unwieldy a number for a single fee-earner to cope with – unless they are only engaging with those who respond to the marketing activity.

2.     Strategic fit and desirability of client – If your organisation is predominantly focused on large, international institutions there’s little point in targeting organisations which do don’t fit this profile. Similarly, there may be many organisations who need your services but only a few of whom can afford your services or who you want to work with. Keeping in mind these broader criteria can support sensible targeting and also allow teams to develop shared target lists so that the load is shared.

3.     Costs to serve vs lifetime value – Often the focus is on the short term wins or the low hanging fruit. The cost of sales is a significant factor in the professions and you can invest as much time and effort pursuing and converting a client who provides one piece of work as you can with one that might produce a steady stream of work for many years to come. A key element here is to ensure that the clients you are targeting will generate superior profits rather than empty revenues.

4.     Pipeline blend – The danger with any business development activity is that there’s a temptation to “pursue the new”. Therefore, your targeting activity should involve analysis of past clients and referrers to select those that merit further attention. So there should be targets for new organisations you want to connect with, new clients you want to develop further, established clients you want to grow as well as existing and potential referrers with whom you want to cultivate greater collaboration.

5.     Dream client and client personas – For those looking at the consumer market, it is helpful to try and define the dream client in as much detail as possible as it will help identify those intermediaries who are close to them and the best channels to reach them through marketing efforts. Increasingly, the development of personas is being used to guide the production of tailored web copy for different stages of the buying cycle.

6.     Authority level – Some sales strategies use the decision making unit and purchasing process for targeting purposes. For example, level 1 targets might be board members or C-level (i.e. Chief executive, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer etc), level 2 concerned with technical evaluation and selection (e.g. procurement officers, in-house counsel, finance directors) and level 3 at end users (e.g. department head or branch managers).

7.     Loyalty level – Whilst loyalty is diminishing generally, it might be a criteria for targeting new clients. Those who seek the cheapest deal are unlikely to be with you for the long term and may be quick to change suppliers whereas those who take more time and effort to convert may remain loyal for many years. Put another way, you might also consider whether they have a monogamous, polygamous or promiscuous approach to their suppliers in your targeting efforts.

8.     Trigger and filters – If you have a long list of potential targets, it may be necessary to prioritise them through the use of triggers (those factors which will increase the chances that they will need some professional advice or that there is more likelihood that they will open to approaches) and filters (those factors which might indicate you have a higher chance of success). This is where you are measuring the attractiveness and motivation of the targets against your relative business strength and differentiated offer.

9.     Type of relationship – Depending on the buyer, some clients treat their advisers as commodity providers (always seeking the best price), others as preferred product-service providers (seeking the best expertise or the “horses for courses” approach) or value adders (those who are regarded as always adding extra value) or business partners (the first point of call, with a high degree of trust and early involvement in all matters).

10.     Size and style – Of course, a traditional method of targeting is to seek those clients and referrers who are similar in size and style to your own organisation and with similar client bases. This can be more difficult to achieve in terms of data availability but is the cornerstone of many intermediary focused targeting approaches.

Whatever approach is selected – and often a combination is used depending on the target market and the products and services being provided – time invested in a good targeting strategy means that everyone will waste less time pursuing the wrong opportunities and a higher conversion rate should be achieved. Furthermore, when fee-earners have more clarity around who they are pursuing, it motivates them for as the saying goes “Let the dog see the rabbit”.