The choice of potential customers is the first step of an active customer acquisition strategy. In the following post, we will analyze the role of data analysis and intuition in researching and selecting commercial targets.
Operational premise: conquest and exploration
Before examining this post’s topic in detail, we believe it is interesting to reflect on the starting method of choice of potential customers that are to be engaged in a commercial negotiation. In Vehnta, we think that it is possible to begin this process starting from two concepts: conquest and exploration.
Conquest: sailing across a Red Ocean
In terms of choice of the potential targets, the most common approach practiced by companies willing to grow is certainly conquering new shares in the reference market or increasing their presence in the sectors of expertise. It is a process that entails new customer acquisition among the clients of the competitors or among potential customers that are expanding their business.
All of this represents a common practice for marketing and salespeople. However, it is a game played inside the same perimeter, which does not change the sector as a whole and only creates friction among the competitors. In the book Blue Ocean Strategy written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, this is called a Red Ocean (defined red referred to as the blood that results from competition).
Obviously, this strategy is an integral part of the development of each company and must not be abandoned. Here in Vehnta, we suggest implementing a strategy based not only on Conquest and Red Ocean but also on Exploration and Blue Ocean.
Exploration: discovering the Blue Ocean
Instead, a different choice is to start from sectors that have not been explored yet: discovering the Blue Ocean, which owes its name to the fact that it is clear and without blood color due to conflicts. Obviously, inside the economic macrocosm, another industry will lose clients, whereas the considered sector will acquire new customers.
Indeed, the economic situation, intended as growth or recession, and the competitive advantage that each company can put in place to play its match on the market, see our post From strategy to customer acquisition, join the game as protagonists when talking about new business development. However, these are other complex variables that we will not address in this post.
Coming back to the main topic, as Vehnta, we suggest following both the strategies to track one’s route for both Red and Blue Ocean: as they were two parallel tracks.
As defined, a B2B commercial campaign should start from the choice and the definition of its potential customers: from drawing up a list of them, starting from the most suitable targets up to the potential customers that seem more complex to acquire, but which could result in a more important satisfaction. Data analysis is an integral part of this process and must be implemented before and after drawing up the list of potential customers.
Preliminary data analysis: drawing up the list of potential customers
Data can be handy to draw up a list of potential customers. Studies, analyses, and whitepapers can be a source of information to understand which companies could need the offered services: starting from their future plans or critical issues. Collecting information about the companies helps us cluster them and look for a common solution to propose an offer.
It is a scientific and analytical activity that presents difficulties in data collection and the creative ability to understand the situation.
Analysis of each company: confirming the list of potential customers
Once the list of potential customers has been structured, it is time for confirmatory data analysis. It is necessary to understand if each company on the list has the right features to be contacted.
This phase, which is a more back-office stage than the previous one, involves analyses of economic-financial and structural-organizational situations of the companies, along with specific analyses depending on the type of business. This phase is where collaboration and exchange of views among departments are an essential part of the activity. Indeed, it is necessary to understand if the companies considered have had previous relationships with the selling company.
Once the list of potential customers has been defined with the customer, it is time to find the right interlocutors and envisage the purchasing system. There are different sources and different software that help to identify the most appropriate people to contact. However, a Trial and Error Method certainly needs to be implemented, alongside examining the purchasing process of the considered potential client. Purchasing systems can indeed be very different, and each company has its own defined process. During this phase, it is necessary to identify the right combination among the elements to identify the decision-makers and define the chain of command. It is always helpful to start from the general theory. To know more, click here Analysis of Purchasing System. For each of the analyzed potential customers, it is necessary to examine the people involved in the purchasing process and the connections between them.
The identified purchasing system will then have to be related to the availability variable of the potential customer. This variable is the willingness (availability) to make changes to the status quo. With this in mind, it is essential to understand the client’s disposition, both disguised and clear: the buyer could indeed be in a state of tranquility (T), improvement (I), or problem-solving (P).
Both the improvement (I) and the problem solving (P) phases are ideal moments to propose oneself to the potential customer because, in both cases, the company is change-oriented. These two situations differ in the deep reasons that are at the basis of the choice and so the related response times. In order to increase conversion opportunity, it is fundamental to understand if the buyer is looking for an improvement, which will require slower times (for example, the optimization of new technology), or if he or she is looking for a solution to a problem which implies that response times will be shorter (for example if a machine is broken or a company process does not function anymore as it should). Clearly, the most expert buyers know how to disguise their own state, keeping apparent tranquility. For this reason, it is necessary to collect information about the nature of the request using lateral thinking: indeed, often, a direct approach is not efficient.
Buyer in a tranquil state is to be avoided as, considering both the moment and the reasons to change, he or she will hardly be willing to close a negotiation. In this stage, the buyer would only wish to avoid problems, but he or she does not have the situation figured out yet. Therefore, there could be collaboration perspectives only if the target company is in an I or P state.
The role of information
As previously mentioned, information plays a crucial role when selecting potential customers. Sometimes this information is available from different sources, as in the case of the creation of the list of potential customers. In contrast, as far as purchasing system is concerned, information will be heterogeneous. Some data will be available in different software, while to define purchasing process and system information will have to be derived from the activities put in place and the relationships that will have to be generated. As regards unknown variables, as the definition tells itself, it will certainly be harder to achieve a summary. Gathering unknown variables requires putting in place experience and capabilities to conceive a situation, understand not evident messages and make the right connections to understand the scenario and act accordingly.
That’s why, beyond data analysis, we have pointed out intuition as an essential tool for the choice of potential customers.
The role of intuition
There are many ways to define intuition, but the most accepted definition describes intuition as the immediate knowledge that does not use reasoning or knowledge derived from the senses.
Philosophers, psychologists, and thinkers have debated this subject. Nowadays, the most excellent experts on the topic are Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli psychologist, winner, together with Vernon Smith, of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, and Gary Klein, a world-renowned American psychologist and a pioneer in the field of the naturalistic decision making.
An interview, published among the Strategy & Corporate Finance Insights on McKinsey’s blog in 2010 that follows the article signed by both of them in 2009 for American Psychologist, perfectly defines their views on the subject.
Like the scientific community to which he belongs, Daniel Kahneman, named HB (heuristics and biases), is conscious of the existence of capabilities and expertise but tends to focus on the defects of human cognitive performance, thus warning against intuitions. Gary Klein, just like the members of the NDM (naturalistic decision-making) community, is instead aware that professionals are often wrong, but he underlines the magnificence of the success of experts’ performance.
For both academics, we invite you to read their essays and articles, but in this case, we would like to dwell on the reasoning of Klein concerning how experience can help intuition. His thinking leads to a crucial conclusion: if two conditions occur simultaneously, then intuition becomes a potent tool. These conditions are that qualified intuitions will develop only in an environment characterized by sufficient regularity, which provides interesting insights for similar situations. In contrast, the second condition is that there must be an appropriate opportunity to catch relevant signals and to apply the strategy or strategies previously learned.
Applying intuition to the choice of potential customers
Coming back to the main topic, when talking about applying intuition to the choice of potential customers, it is not academic speculation. Instead, it is a process that involves business decisions and transactions.
As previously defined, one of the aspects that, according to the latest studies, guides intuition is experience acquired over the years. That’s true also for new business and customer acquisition activities: therefore also for the choice of potential customers.
Having explored new sectors or having conquered new companies is undoubtedly an advantage. The concept of experience applies not only for logical and deductive reasons but, in detail, as a ground for intuition.
Data analysis and intuition: an operational summary
As said, data analysis helps to take the first steps in the choice of potential customers. It indeed helps to define a starting list. The second step to define the targets is instead more linked to intuition. The first part is pure logic, while the second part of intuition given by experience can make the difference.
These are certainly interesting topics connected to a new, more specific, and result-oriented way of doing business. However, the most beautiful definition of intuition is the one of Clarissa Pinkola Estès, writer, poetess, and psychoanalyst.
“With intuition, we are like the starry night, we gaze at the world through a thousand eyes.”
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