Routes to market

Car on a map{{}}You could have the best product or service in the world, but it will fail if you don't put it in front of the right customers. To maximise your chances of business success, you will need to identify and focus on the most effective routes to your market

There are no bad routes to market, but you can easily overlook the best routes to your market by skipping the homework required when looking for the best sales channels for your product or service. If you don't do the market research to find out where and how your target customers prefer to buy, your business will not thrive as it could.

Get to know your customer

All firms need to understand their customers before considering which sales channels to put their resources into. Sales channels are usually divided into direct channels, such as sales reps, shops, websites, mail order and exhibitions; and indirect channels, such as sales agents, distributors and franchisees.

You will need to ask your customers what they buy, where they buy, how they prefer to buy and why they buy. Different customers in different sectors can have very different buying habits and expectations.

A busy professional consumer, for example, will probably appreciate an online sales channel for books and DVDs. An engineering buyer considering a complex product will appreciate face-to-face contact so they can discuss technical details and build a long-term relationship with the seller. In this case, you will need to make the effort to meet your customers to establish your credibility and persuade them you can offer better value than competitors.

Whoever you are selling to - whether a consumer or a business customer - you will need to appreciate the needs of the individual buyer and ensure that you can cater to them.

Choosing the right sales channel

There are pros and cons to all sales channels. With direct emails, for example, data laws must be considered and the response rate can be low. But it is an inexpensive route to market.

Trade shows or exhibitions can be a more effective way of directly reaching potential customers. But there may be a risk attached to being placed right next to your competitors.

Using a sales agent or telesales team can work well, especially if sales are not your strong point. But such third parties may be more likely to focus on immediate sales rather than establishing long-term relationships with customers, and there are issues of control to consider.

Importantly, however, you must not assume that your competitors have got it right. The evidence of your market research should inform every decision you take when picking your sales channels.

Measure your results

Once you've settled on your sales channels, you will need to promote them to your target customers - if they don't know you're there, how can they buy from you? You will also need to measure the number of sales and enquiries from each of the channels you have chosen.

This will tell you which generate the most sales and so deserve further promotion, and which you should scrap, if any. Measuring returns on investment will tell you the real cost of a particular route to market; if you have any that are uneconomical, stop using them. Focus only the routes to market that actually make you money.