The Science of Trade Marketing – Issue 2: Customer Census & Classification

Customer Marketing Quad Cities

First You Find Them

Customer Census is exactly what it sounds like. You are basically taking the strategy you defined at the beginning of the process (see Issue 1) and using it to determine what your desired customers and prospects might look like. This is, essentially, the potential customer universe for your company. Since you now know what the customer you want looks like, it’s up to you to gather them together into a common platform. This is Customer Census.

There are a number of sources you can use to source your customer list. The obvious first choice would be internal company records of existing customers or prospects. Another good source for potential customers is syndicated, or standardized external, data from a reputable source such as Trade Dimensions or Dun & Bradstreet. It’s important not to discriminate during the Customer Census process. All you’re trying to do is identify the full customer universe, in its entirety, which potentially fits your strategy. You can exclude those customers that represent less opportunity later on during the Trade Coverage Planning process.

Defining Your Customer Universe


Then You Classify Them

Customer Classification is, in short, the process of applying a set of common attributes to all the potential customers in your customer universe. These attributes can be standard to your industry or they can be unique to your company. The important thing is that these attributes will be meaningful to your company and can be used later on to define the relative value of one company in your universe versus the others.

Following are some examples of key attributes you might apply during Customer Classification.

  • Volume – How much do they purchase or sell in units?
  • Dollars – How much do they purchase or sell in dollars?
  • Control – Is it a single entity (independent) or part of a larger corporate or buying group (chain)?
  • Channel – What trade segment would they fall into (e.g. Food, Drug, Mass, Hardware, etc.)?
  • Customer Type – Is it a wholesale, retail or buying office type location?
  • Customer Status – Is it a current customer or a prospect?

Next Steps

There are many potential attributes to choose from and they can be revised periodically based on changes to your business. Whatever attributes you decide on, however, should be associated with the specific customer records in your customer database. These records will be the basis for segmenting your customer universe during the next step in your Trade Marketing planning process. It is now time to move on to that next step in the process, called Trade Coverage Planning.

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Article written by John Howard

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John is the founder and President of Frontera Marketing Group. A graduate of the University of Iowa, John had more than 20 years of professional experience in Sales and Marketing prior to founding FMG. His corporate background included a number of companies, industries and roles including National Account Manager, Product Manager, Brand Manager, Director of Trade Marketing, Director of Marketing and Vice-President of Marketing.

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