There's a fundamental principle of business that's equally as vital online as offline. And yet I've rarely heard it articulated.
It's the principle of understanding whether you're in a one-to-many or one-to-few business.
Understanding this is much more important than labelling yourself “business to business” or “business to consumer” because it fundamentally impacts the type of marketing that will work best for you.
You're in a one-to-many business if you typically have 50, 100 or more clients a year and each individual client doesn't bring you a huge amount of revenue each.
You're in a one-to-few business if you have a handful of clients with many of them generating significant revenues each.
With a one-to-many business you use broadcast marketing. You generate lots of visitors to your site and build a big email marketing list. You advertise. You get your name in front a a large number of people. You can't spend a lot per potential client – since the revenue from each one is relatively low it wouldn't be profitable.
In a one-to-few business, not only can you afford to spend more per potential client, you need to. If they're going to be buying a big project from you, it's going to take a lot to convince them (and the “spend” may well be in terms of time, not money).
So you make a list of target clients. You check Linkedin to see if you know anyone who knows them. For the really high value ones you create a tailored campaign just for them (there's a story that James O McKinsey, founder of McKinsey & Co, once hired a room opposite a potential client he was pursuing just so he could “bump into them” in the corridor).
You use sequential direct mail, offering a free report or other lead magnet to get their attention. You do presentations at events where that small number of ideal clients is likely to be. You know that your extra investment is well worth the returns you'll get from an individual client.
What I see happening often is very different.
I see businesses who only need a handful of clients a year adopting mass market tactics and failing to make a big enough impact on anyone to ever bring them on board as a high value client.
I see businesses who need hundreds of clients a year doing personal marketing and burning up a ton of time just to bring in a few leads.
You must understand what type of business you're in an market accordingly.
And yes, it's possible to be in both types of business. To have a small number of very large clients and a bunch of small ones. But you must recognise that each group needs to be marketed to differently.
Image thanks to James Cridland