Qualifying Your Clients For a Happier Business

By Deanna Mims, Owner
I’m speaking from experience in my business MarketDone.  As a service provider, it is important to qualify your clients to avoid wasting time and money, and to build the kind of business you envisioned.
When you first meet – perhaps over a free consultation – the questions you should ask your potential client to determine if they are your next perfect client include:
  1. What exactly do they offer?
  2. What the tangible and intrinsic benefits are?
  3. Who they are trying to market to?
  4. If their budget for the task they are speaking to you about is realistic
  5. If they have the resources and desire to get you what you need, when you need it
  6. Can…No, Will they communicate with you?
If you are a service provider to brand new businesses, you will meet newbies who have not really laser focused on their true target audience. They will proclaim their niche as follows: “I offer Life Coaching Services. They improve people’s satisfaction levels and help people make important decisions. My target audience is… Everyone! Everyone needs guidance!” And then you’ll realize that some specific education is in order to really be able to help them, both short and long term.
Remind them that by selling to everyone, it’s possible that no one will feel like it’s a perfect fit for them, especially with all the competition out there. Tell them that with more specificity and right niche targeting, you’ll be able to tailor and optimize not only your services, but your messaging and pricing.
The reality is that everyone wants something that fits them perfectly. This is why women buy crisp white shirts from the women’s department and not the men’s – although those are far cheaper. Our differences create niches and if you can identify the niche you are trying to serve, you will come much closer in directing your messaging to ‘your people’.
So advise them to dig deep and refine your thoughts.
My friend is not offering general  Life Coaching…
She is  offering Life Coaching to people experiencing life transitions –
be it a new job, a firing, a retirement, adopting children, children leaving home,
your husband undergoing a sex change procedure, your elderly mother moving in –
whatever the case may be.

Computer and IT folks – is it possible you’re not selling computer repair services…you are selling reliable, regularly scheduled maintenance and quick response system monitoring to keep a company’s employees more productive, more of the time? You understand their needs as you are a small company too, and because you work out of a home-based office, your pricing is perfectly in line and affordable for small firms?
Can you see a difference in how you define your niche?

Targeting Criteria:
Here are 4 basic targeting methods to get us started:

I’m currently working with an event planner who shares custody of her child with the father. She won’t be moving anytime soon and can do her best work with the resources you knows personally, in a geographic area that ensures she is home every night. So with a very narrow geographic range, she can advertise on Facebook for Tallahassee associations, government and businesses planning events, run local ads, network locally, consider a billboard and guerilla marketing – all in a relatively tight area.

This event planner would plan very different themed decorations, activities, design elements, invite lists, places to publicize – and even food and drink – depending on the age of the attendees, their social status/income level, their race, and definitely their gender. The parameters are fairly clearly drawn, with some overlap of course, in demographic targeting.

My event planner knows that if she wants to work with larger budget accounts, with a high end price tag, she needs to deliver high end concepts for menu, design, venue and entertainment. They may take longer and be more expensive to produce, and require more assistants, but the cost of 4 is the same as the cost of 10 lesser priced events. If she needs to work on a smaller, more modest scale, she knows how that will effect what she can do with her centerpieces, venue, etc. and this will affect the markets she reaches out to.

Understanding what they need, what keeps them up at night, what problems they have you can solve – what they care about – who they need to impress or influence, what circles they run in, what their ultimate 40,000 foot goal is – all will help you offer the best solution for becoming their solution and building a loyal clientele.

Niching down looks like evaluating your first criteria, then digging down to a sub criteria to discover what direction your efforts should take. It can look like this:
Local non-profit social service associations who need copywriting help to develop their brochure
        Digging deeper:
        Non profit social service associations who don’t have a marketing person on staff that need copywriting help
What do I know about this group of people?
I know they are probably already late in getting their brochure out.  They may have tried several versions in house, and are frustrated with the outcome, and ready to professionalize and take their marketing material to the next level.  They probably don’t have much money to spend, but are willing to allot some funds to accomplish their goals and need someone to do it quickly and right the first time.
Ok, so they are located in Tallahassee – I can already start thinking through their  geographic niche.
Now I need to know…who they serve? How they serve them? From where do they serve them? Who they collaborate with? What purpose will this brochure serve other than overall information – fundraising? Volunteer recruitment? Board member education? To be included in a grant application? To go out to clients? What is the #1 thing that could be accomplished if this brochure was over and above what was expected? How large are they? Who do they compete and collaborate with?
And then, of course, you’ve got your direction, the big picture of how to make a comprehensive brochure that addresses all the needs at hand (or suggestions for offshoot material), to serve what population and where, and you have an idea of the effort expenditure vs. the potential earnings from the project.
So remember, to be fully informed and ready to qualify your clients. A good formula to follow:
Step 1: Make a list of customer characteristics
Create a list of ALL the different characteristics and qualifications that your potential customer might have.  It’s ok to stereotype. Start with three and BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE. Don’t say, “I repair computers and everyone has a computer.”  (include demographics such as age, gender, budget, social status, ethnicity if that’s relevant, their main worries, what circles they circulate in) Don’t worry about sub-groups just yet — simply write down every characteristic you can think of.
Step 2: Parse out in Outline form
You’ve listed out all of the characteristics of your potential customer. Now, organize the customer characteristics from Step 1 into an outline form. (For a while, you may need to do this on paper, but really it’s just a breakdown of what you eventually will do in your head in seconds):
What parts of their profile are most and least important to know?
Example: if you are selling sexy designer shoes to working women, your outline would look like:
  • 1st MOST important: being a woman
  • 2nd most important: earning an income that would allow for extras/disposables
  • 3rd most important: being fashion forward and caring about presenting a particular point of view in their wardrobe, and determining what group that is likely to be
With some practice and in some cases a frank and realistic look at who you WANT to SERVE, IF you have the CAPABILITY to serve them, and if they can AFFORD you to do so, you will become a faster qualifier and run a happier, more prosperous business!