Today I had lunch in a local Vietnamese restaurant with a childhood buddy who runs a very successful education practice. Simply put, he researches and recommends colleges and therapeutic programs to parents looking for the best educational opportunities for their children.
Over pho and rice noodles he explained his problem: he loves doing the work (meeting with the kids and researching the schools) but he hasn’t done a good job marketing his business to his customer. As he put it: “I don’t like to talk about myself or schmooze too much.”

The more we talked, though; it became clear that his problem wasn’t that he hasn’t been promoting his business. His problem is that he doesn’t know which customer to whom he should market his services.

“How do you find a customer?” I asked.

“I’ve been doing this for thirty years” he answered. “So someone will call me and say that their neighbor’s father-in-law’s cousin knew somebody who had sent their kid to me twenty years ago and they recommended me. Or often a school guidance counselor or a pediatric psychiatrist will recommend me. But how can I tell who my customer really is?

Different types of customers

Not only doesn’t my friend know who his customer is but he also doesn’t know about the different classifications of customers.

Customer number one is the end-user. In this case the end-user is the child who benefits from my friend’s services. Parents who are relieved that their kids are getting the right education are secondary users. The parents are also the payers because they are generally responsible for paying the bill. And the neighbor, teacher or therapist who made the recommendation in the first place is the referring party.

Based on this breakdown, if you were my friend, to which customer would you market your services?

Certainly not the end-user. Even though the child benefits most from the service, they neither have the means nor the inclination to purchase. While parents might seem like the obvious customer because they have a lot at stake and they ultimately decide whether or not to purchase, they’re not the best customer to reach out to either. That’s because there are so many parents that it becomes statistically impossible to find the right parent at the moment that they need to make a decision about what to do with their troubled teen.

But pediatric psychiatrists, school guidance counselors, and pediatricians all deal with special need kids every day.  Their professional commitment is to find solutions for the children and families they work with. They read professional journals, they attend industry events, and they talk to their peers about what services are available for their patients and charges. So the customer with the highest propensity to recommend my friend’s services as well as the most interest in what my friend has to say is the referring party

Not only is this customer interested in what my friend does, they’re interested in what he has to say. And unlike the parents who are only interested in my friend’s educational consulting services at the very moment that their child has a need, the specialists who make up the referring parties are interested all the time because of their professional commitment.

Becoming the obvious expert

Knowing this, how does my friend reach out to his potential customer? And how do you find and attract your best customer? It’s simple; become the obvious expert in the field.

When you read trade journals or general market publications and newspapers about your area of expertise, have you ever noticed that the same people get quoted over and over again? Have you ever wondered why their opinions get printed time after time while yours don’t? Have you ever stopped to think about what you could do to rectify this situation?

Industry slang for the place where obvious experts are found is “the golden Rolodex.” That’s because every time a reporter needs to do a story they look through their list of contacts to see whom they can call for information. If your name and number is in “the golden Rolodex”, there’s a lot more chance you’re going to be included in reporters’ stories.

How do you find your customer?

How do you get on this list? Easy. Make yourself known to the very reporters you’re interested in having write about you. Give them a call or invite them to lunch and use your time together to let them know that you’re an expert in the field that they’re writing about and that you are available to help them create, research, and write their stories.

Recently I noticed a column in my local newspaper called “On The Road Again.” The article interviewed frequent travelers and printed their travel tips. One article was about a man who had a factory in China. He talked about always packing cigars and always reserving a specific room in his favorite hotel so he could sit on the balcony of his suite and enjoy the smokes he had brought. That was how he dealt with the ordeals of traveling half way around the world.

Another woman talked about buying pink suitcases so that she could easily find her luggage on the baggage carousel at the airport.

I called the reporter, told him I had read his stories and that I had a number of good tips to contribute to his column. I told him that I always carry my suitcases with me because I believe that there are only two kinds of luggage – carry on and lost. I explained the number of things I do to reduce the amount of things I need to carry, from bringing a foldable camping toothbrush to special travel underwear that can be washed in the hotel room sink and dried overnight. I suggested that he write an article on how I manage to travel around the world with just carry-on bags.

Not only did he write the article, but at last count twenty eight domestic newspapers and even a paper in Australia had reprinted the article.

Of course I didn’t stop there. I added the article to my blog, forwarded copies to everyone on my distribution list and made reprints to send out to my customers and prospects.

Imagine if my friend the educational consultant reached out to every reporter who writes about his subject and told them a little bit about what makes him special. Besides the fact that he has handled hundreds of fascinating cases in the thirty years he’s been working, he has visited more than 150 different educational programs around the world. Think of what a resource he can be to reporters when he can help them write about the places to which he’s actually been.

Now think about what you have to offer to make a reporter’s job easier. Your unique skill sets, experiences, anecdotes, and access to information all go a long way to helping your intended reporter write their story. Just remember that your stories should be of specific interest to your actual customer and your information and suggestions should be useful to the reporters to whom you reach out. If you first target the reporters by their ability to influence your true customer (the point of this article in the first place) you’ll find that their articles will help you reach your goals and market your business.