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I recently got a snarky email from a prospect I'd been sending emails to — emails that I thought were helpful and valuable. Obviously, this prospect didn't think as much of my emails as I did. What went wrong?

The definition of "valuable" is set by each of your prospects. What's valuable to you might not be valuable to them. And what's valuable to one prospect might not be valuable to another. The key to successful marketing (and successful sales) is to learn what each prospect finds valuable, and to customize your communications accordingly.

It's Not About Demographics

Marketers love to group people into target segments based on demographics. But things like age, income level, and career path rarely tell you much about what a person values. Demographics are easy, because you can often find this information with a few clicks — a survey at most. It's fine (and necessary) to group people into categories AFTER you've done sufficient research on them. But demographics alone aren't sufficient — they won't tell you what you need to know in order to deliver value. You have to dig deeper.

Start Viewing Your Target Market as Individuals

If you want to learn what your prospects value, you'll have to actually get to know them as individuals. You need to learn what their goals are, how they see themselves, what their struggles are, what they fear, what they hate most about work, what's blocking them from success. You need to find out how they describe their problems and frustrations, down to the words they use. To be effective at communication, you have to learn to talk the language of the person you're speaking to.

Let's Get Practical

This is nice, but how can it be done in a practical way, right? Especially by smaller marketing departments who don't have the resources of a market research firm. There are a few guerilla tactics you can use to learn the information you need.

  • Send Marketing on sales calls. When your salespeople are doing needs analysis interviews, have someone from Marketing sit in. Hearing how each prospect describes pain points and needs will not only help marketing get a better sense of where prospects are in the spectrum of the target market segments, but will also help inform the language of marketing messages.

  • Scour forums and LinkedIn groups. The industry forums and LinkedIn groups of your prospects are gold mines of information. On these platforms, your prospects are talking about their needs and problems, asking for advice and recommendations. When you tune in to these conversations, you can learn nuances that you wouldn't find any other way.

  • Check out case studies of your competitors. Case studies usually dig into the pain points experienced by the clients. You can find out additional details about the issues your prospects are struggling with from these stories.

  • Conduct phone interviews with current clients and prospects. Sometimes the best way to find out information is to flat-out ask the questions you're wondering. Create a list of your best-fit clients and prospects you most want to work with, and ask for a brief, 10-minute phone conversation with them just to learn more about how to deliver better value to others like them. Most people will be happy to share 10 minutes to help you out.

If I had dug deeper and learned more about this prospect who responded so negatively BEFORE starting to send emails, I would have learned that the articles I had planned to send weren't really applicable to her work or life. She needs articles and information on other topics. I could have sent that content, had I taken time to learn. But instead, I lost a good prospect.

People today are inundated with marketing communications — they see blog posts shared on social media, eBooks promoted in emails, and everything in between advertised online. The world is full of content — good content, even. But what prospects want isn't more content. They want valuable content that's actually relevant to them. And if you deliver it, you'll get a positive response rather than a negative one.

Mike Donnelly

Written by Mike Donnelly

Founder and CEO - Seventh Sense