If you want to grow your firm faster and be more profitable (and who doesn't?) one of the key disciplines you need to master is better client targeting. Our research shows that high growth, high value firms are over three times more likely to have a clearly defined target group of clients. But thats not all. Data from the same study also show that firms that do structured, systematic research on their target clients grow faster and are more profitable.

So the evidence is clear. A well defined and understood target client group helps you grow and prosper. But how do you pull that off? Here are seven key questions you must be able to answer in the affirmative to maximize the positive impact of client targeting.

  1. Have you analyzed your current clients to determine how to define your best target group?
    Your current clients are usually the best place to start. Look at profitability and their compatibility with your team. Do you have something special to offer them? In short, you are looking for what is already working. This step will help you make sure you are targeting the right types of clients.
  2. Do you understand their problems, concerns, fears, hopes and daily reality?
    This is a bit trickier but really starts to pay dividends. Don't just focus on the hard demographics of your target audience. Try to learn what's going on between their ears. When you understand the pressures they are experiencing you can develop service offerings that will make their lives easier.
  3. Can you get specific?
    Ah, there is the question. If you have sufficient information to describe your target client in detail, you are more likely to find and attract qualified prospects. This knowledge will help your entire marketing program — from brand development to your marketing plan.
  4. Do you conduct regular research on your clients and/or their industry to anticipate needs and uncover trends?
    This question relates directly back to the research I cited in my opening paragraph. Systematic, structured research (not to be confused with the “informal research” many of us do on our clients) will put you in a position to understand the trends affecting your clients — in a way that allows you to anticipate what services they are likely to need. This way, you can position yourself to offer those services in advance of your competitors. This beats reacting to the market any day.
  5. Can you identify the best channels to communicate with your target audience?
    While most of the prior questions focused on developing better targeting and a better message, this helps you deliver that message. Where do your target clients get their information? Which blogs do they read? Which trade press outlets work best? What associations do they belong to? If you don't know the answer to these questions you will be less effective reaching them.
  6. Does your firm have credibility with your target audience?
    If you don't, you'll need a way to either build credibility or borrow it by partnering with someone who has it already. Here is a little shortcut. Sometimes the structured research that you are doing to understand the target audience can be used to build credibility. Sharing some of the more insightful findings through the channels that you identified in step 5 can be an effective way to generate credibility.
  7. Have they heard of your firm?
    This final point speaks to visibility. You may have a great reputation, but if few people in your prime target audience have heard of your firm, you will have limited traction. Here again there is good news. Visibility is one of the easier problems to solve if you understand your specific target well, have a credible message and understand where your customers turn for information.

As you reflect on these seven key questions it becomes easier to see how your client targeting — and your whole business development program — can be improved.