Building a Customer Finder

July 24, 2018

By Ric Noreen


Smart fishermen use a simple device called a fish finder, which uses sound waves to easily locate and catch fish. Sales agents and their managers are a lot like fishermen, some casting their lines out with little guidance, not knowing where the customers are or what sort of "bait" might allow them to reel in a big one.

The biggest challenge for manufacturers selling goods through sales reps or agents is routing them efficiently, thereby increasing the likelihood that a store call will result in a sale. Manufacturers may not have a battery-powered sonic device that beeps when a customer is nearby, but they can create a near-equivalent with the right approach.

The key to this is directing them to areas where the heaviest concentration of their core consumers live, and likewise, the stores most likely to sell their categories. The challenge is finding the intersection of the two. Much like the fisherman who uses a fish finder to pinpoint where the fish are, manufacturers can use some simple technology and strategies to find exactly where the customers (and relevant retailers) are. Specifically, there are three steps to building your "customer finder," and it all starts with data.

The first step is to characterize your target consumers along traditional demographic factors so you can find more who look like them. Now you are in a position to identify where the highest concentration of those potential consumers live by zip code. Like the sonic fish-finder that can help fishermen spot large schools of fish, your data-driven customer finder will help you find the largest concentration of your target consumers. Most manufacturers can access MRI or Simmons to acquire this consumer data by Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and zip code. Rank those MSAs to show which ones have the highest concentration of your target customers.

Now that you understand where your consumers are concentrated, the second step is locating the retailers most likely to sell your product. You already have data to describe your consumer, now you need data to describe the retailers at which they can find your product. To identify which types of retailers are most likely to sell what you manufacture, refer to the U.S. Census North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) database. which identifies every retailer operating across 65 separate retail formats. The NAICS database is very granular, allowing you to see very specifically which stores are most likely to sell what you offer.

For example, you are selling fishing poles and so you, of course, focus on sporting goods stores, one of the 65 retail formats in the database. There are 18 sub-formats of sporting goods stores — bowling supplies won't play, but bait and tackle stores will. Use that database to determine all the relevant codes and sub-codes that could sell your category by zip code.

The third and final step is creating the "heat map." By following the first two steps, you now understand where your target consumers live, and you know which retailers in those markets are most likely to sell your product. But those two datasets are, so far, completely separate. Knowing where they intersect is the final step in the process. Use one of the many geo-spatial mapping software programs available to bring the two datasets together, virtually laying the two maps created on top of one another to find the greatest intersections of prime consumers and their target retailers. Select the top 15 markets with the highest density of both customers and retailers and get started. Score the prime zip codes in each market and you have your prime areas identified. Rinse and repeat for subsequent MSAs and zip clusters.

This three-step process instantly allows sales reps to dramatically increase their efficiency and conversion rates by focusing on the most productive stores and building a compelling story to build distribution. In addition, the heat map serves as the foundation of a data-driven strategy for deploying sales staff and informs territory design, staffing levels, and call frequencies. It can also be used to help guide other sales tactics like differential pricing, promotions, and sales terms.

This strategy is useful for all agents, whether in-house or third-party, making the sales process more profitable for all, creating a greater sense of loyalty, and driving growth for all parties.


Ric Noreen is managing partner of Waypoint Strategic Solutions, a boutique consultancy that helps clients worldwide design and implement channel-driven growth strategies.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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