IN CONVERSATIONS with business owners and salesmen throughout North America and Asia, I have noticed that many of them struggle with:

* attracting their ideal clients;

* differentiating themselves in the marketplace; and

* converting more leads into sales.

Let us start by focusing on how you can attract your ideal clients. The only way of achieving this is by developing a customer strategy that is built upon the following three pillars.

1. DETECTING YOUR NICHE AND QUALIFYING LEADS

As much as you might want to believe that your products will benefit everyone, the truth is, not everyone feels the same way you do.

In fact, it may only be a very small segment of the market, and your challenge is to detect that niche. The easiest way to do that is to take out a piece of paper or open a new spreadsheet document, and in the first column, list as many possible niches you can think of.

In the adjacent columns, assign numerical rankings (from 1 to 5) for each niche for your passion, your strengths and the needs of that niche. This should give you a good indication of which are the top three niches you may want to research further.

Identifying people who are potential customers, called prospecting, is a very important aspect of personal selling.

Prospects have three basic qualifications:

* a need for your product;

* the ability to afford your product; and

* the authority to purchase your product.

Refining your prospect list is essential to avoid wasting time calling on unlikely prospects or on prospects who cannot place an order large enough to cover the cost of the sales call.

How are you accurately qualifying your prospective customers? Be sure to create a list of qualifying questions that will help you accurately identify who your prospective customers really are.

2. HAVING CONVERSATIONS WITH PROSPECTS

It is common for business owners and salesmen to promote products and services they are certain will appeal to their customers.

The only problem is, they never bothered to ask their customers first! Before investing any more time and money promoting products that you love, find out what your customers love.

Schedule 20-minute meetings with three of your prospective customers and ask them to share the greatest challenges they are facing. Are they overcoming those challenges now? If so, how? Are they satisfied with how your competitors are servicing them? Ask what solutions they are looking for.

Avoid the temptation to start selling. You are on a fact-finding mission. The answers to these questions will help you see if you can match your solution to their problems.

This will allow you to modify your offering, if necessary. No one knows what your customers want, more than your customers themselves. Save yourself time and money by getting it right the first time. Ask them questions.

3. IDENTIFYING WAYS TO REACH CUSTOMERS

After having done your niche-detecting and identifying your ideal target customer, it naturally becomes easier to develop a strategy to reach them.

Success in prospecting requires a systematic process of locating potential customers, which includes:

* increasing the number of prospects;

* improving the quality of prospects; and

* shortening the sales cycle by qualifying prospects.

The goal of prospecting is to build a prospect base, a list of current and potential customers. There are several sources of prospects: referrals; centres of influence; directories and publications; trade shows; cold calling; sales letters; websites and databases; networking; seminars, and so on.

If you are more comfortable behind the scenes, this could include writing and submitting articles to newspapers and websites, publishing a newsletter or using online communication mediums such as blogging, Facebook and Twitter.

If you are more comfortable in face-to-face situations, this could include cold-calling and going to networking events, interviews on television and radio, and speaking at conferences.

With so many sources of prospects, it is important to identify the top three ways of consistently reaching a large number of your ideal target customer so you can maximise your impact and avoid spreading yourself too thin.