By Andrew Neitlich

How to break into a new market, even without a customer

By Andrew Neitlich

Many of my clients come to me after they have had little or no success breaking into the business. They’ve taken a scattershot approach to marketing, going after any prospect that will talk to them. But they don’t get traction because they fail to come across as focused, different, and more effective than anyone else.

So they come to me ready to focus on a target market. They finally recognize the need to focus by having fewer prospects, along with a much higher conversion rate. Unfortunately, many of them lack any referenceable client in their target market of choice. They want advice on how to break into a focused market anyway.

Here is where I tell them to start, and it works almost every time:


1. Identify a list of 10-15 executives/business owners in that target market.

2. Take a look at their web presence and do everything you can to research their business.

3. Take some time to read trade publications and association web sites and get a sense of what’s going on in the industry.

4. Send a letter to the 10-15 executives, followed by a phone call. Don’t make a pitch. Don’t sell anything. Instead, contact them and ask for advice. Tell them you are interested in serving their industry exclusively and wonder if they would be willing to take a few minutes to help you conduct some market research. Explicitly state that you are not making a sales call!

5. Have a list of questions ready, including:

– How does your company use the web to generate more business?

– What are key issues about your web presence that you would be willing to improve or build upon?

– What advice do you have about meeting key people in the industry?

– What meetings to industry executives go to? What do they read? What web sites do they visit?

– What is the typical process in hiring web design resources?

– How can an outsider break into the market?

– Does anyone already dominate this market? Why? What is the competition like? What advice can you offer about how to beat them?

– What’s a typical budget for web-related projects, if any?

– Who has responsibility for your company’s web presence, and is this typical in the industry?

– Where do executives go to learn more about how to use the web to generate more revenues and profits?

– Do you know anyone already looking to upgrade their web presence?

– Tell me about the goals you had with your web presence? Are you achieving them?

You get the idea. From here, a few things can happen, and you have to improvise:

1. You might find that your interview subject needs help. You will know his or her web presence and issues cold before you come in, and so may be able to get into a specific conversation about the company’s needs. But be careful to go in this direction only if they lead first.

2. You might get leads to others who need help.

3. You should get excellent insights about how to break into this market.

4. You will have started a relationship that you can build over time. You might even find a mentor! Worst case, ask if the person would mind if you follow up from time to time to keep him/her posted or ask other questions.

Successful people like helping others. That’s why this strategy works.

I hope this is helpful…..Now implement it!

  • cholmon

    This sounds like a great approach, specifically appealing to the executives’ desire to help others, as opposed to trying to make a sale. One question though: what is it about successful people that makes them so likely to help others? I’ve heard this strategy before from many sources (in this blog, on NPR, etc), and it definitely seems to make sense. But what do you all think is the psychological reason behind this ‘entrepreneurial altruism’?

  • Brilliant! :)

  • A Index of all that needed for a barrier braking Marketing bullet

  • MFE

    Do you have any advise on how to actually get to the executive. Most Exec Assistants are well trained gate keepers to filter out potential sales calls and/or folks the Exec may deem “un-important”

    Any advise would be appreciated. Oh yeah great suggestions I’m implementing in my marketing strategy.

  • Likin’ That! :-D

  • patrikG

    Very good advise, thanks :)

  • To MFE,

    A great book for this purpose is Selling to VITO (Very Important Top Officer) by Anthony Parinello, a former Hewlett-Packard salesman.

    Although his method does assume that you have had at least one success story to tell.


  • Another great book is Networking With The Affluent, by Tom Stanley. Not specifically about approaching execs, but more about how to form productive relationships with high-value, low-access prospects. A lot of the information Stanley presents pretty well applies to this situation also.

  • O/T… response to last blog entry…

    Andrew, I agree that forceful manipulation is counter-productive, but sales is manipulation, one way or another. Great products that sell themselves – well heck, if we all had perfect products, we wouldn’t need sales / marketing / advertising, would we? “Buzz” sales & word-of-mouth – Seth Godin may think they’re all we need, but they won’t work for everyone It’s virtually impossible if you think of the math. Conglomeration and market domination require more than just word-of-mout (except in RAARE cases). Additionally, what about the “other” companies? The “second tier”? They need to market more traditionally. Traditional sales and advertising will always have a place in this market.

    PS – I’ve flipped through a couple of Godin’s books… i’m not really impressed with them. I think each could be summarized nicely in one of your blog entries (personally, I prefer your writings to his, anyway!) I do hope his latest book catches on, though! Incentives Marketing (free prizes inside stuff) is my business! :)

  • mmproducer

    Thank you for another solid article! In regards to “what is it about successful people that makes them so likely to help others?” [cholmon]–that IS IT. This approach is exactly what makes them successful.

    I’ve had the good fortune to work with successfull people in both film and fashion and have always been amazed at how helpful they can be.

    The old adage “Help others get what they want, and they will help you get what you want” is very much a mantra to those I have seen. Granted, there are exceptions to every rule, and it’s not applicable to EVERY situation, but that’s part of the art, right?

  • Great article. I was was thinking of doing something like this and now that you made some great points that tell me I have a chance in my niche Im going to apply it right away.

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