Big companies use marketing segmentation to divide a broad market into subsets with distinct attributes, behaviors and priorities. They use a rigorous process to identify customer needs, then develop differentiated products, services or other solutions and complete the strategy with marketing and sales programs that capture the attention of the target clients and win business. Their goal: They want their target clients to think, “They know me!”  

A lot of advisors claim to have a segmented strategy, and some really do. However, I’ve seen some common mistakes, leading to efforts that just aren’t that productive. I’ve also seen some amazing results from a very simple and powerful tactic that anyone can use. By following a core methodology, the most successful marketing companies employ what is “right sized” for a practice. You can do the same to differentiate yourself and attract new business. Consider the following mistakes and the ways to avoid them:

Mistake #1: Weak Segment Definition
The core methodology of segmentation is to understand needs, develop solutions and support programs. To get at the distinct needs, your segment should be defined in a way that is focused and actionable. Categories like “high net worth” or “women” are too broad and diverse to be called segments. 

If you tell people at a cocktail party that you focus on business owners, they may nod their heads. If you instead say you focus on family-owned businesses that want to ensure the company can be passed down to the next generation, that paints a clear picture and they may have a referral for you. Get to a level of specificity where people share more than labels; your client segment should have challenges and opportunities in common.

Choose a segment where you have a credible way of adding value—from your own life experience, skills or track record. Maybe you grew up in a family business, have a trusts and estates background that helps widows or you’ve earned a track record with tech executives experiencing IPOs. The segment should also be attractive in terms of opportunity in your market area. Don’t assume your target segment has to be a mirror of your existing client base—you may want to branch out for better growth. Remember, you are not excluding other clients who come your way; you’re just focusing your efforts.

Mistake #2: Lack Of A Distinct Offering
With rare exception, most firms talk about the segments they serve, but there is nothing customized to the unique needs of these clients. That’s not segmentation. What problems do they need solved? What do you do for them differently from the norm at other firms? It has to go beyond marketing to a tailored client experience. Generally, you can differentiate based on what you do—like more in-depth planning and risk management for business owners—and how you do it. I have found that customizing the “how” (your client process) can really resonate with people. For most of us, core planning and investment needs are pretty generic. So, what can you do to make your “how” a “wow?”

Big Idea: Build It Together
Ask clients for their wish list. While surveys and other feedback systems are great, I am a big fan of the simple focus group, maybe five people. Instead of some impersonal survey, imagine if your doctor said, “How can I make my practice better for your family?” Wouldn’t that be great?

As you invite your clients or prospects, say something like, “I work with a lot of female executives, and I’ve decided to redesign my business to make it better and more tailored for you. Would you join me for lunch to brainstorm some ideas with a few other clients?” If your clients like you, some of them will agree, and even enjoy it. In advance, send out a few conversation starters—open-ended questions, such as: 
1. As your advisor, what problems do I solve for you in your life?

2. Is there any other store or service provider that you love that I could learn from?

3. If you could design the perfect client meeting with me, what would it look like?

As you and any colleagues are facilitating the lunch, you want to come away with some agreement around the group’s top priorities, and some ideas for changes you can make to your process or tools. For example, you might develop a really slick way of using conference calls for meetings with time-starved female executive clients and their spouses. Perhaps there is a special planning workbook for family businesses, and you could do an annual workshop including all family members. You may find widows would enjoy group meetings to get to know each other and learn skills, like how to use your portal or online banking.

Now, you can say you not only serve a certain segment, but that your clients helped to design what you do, and you’ll have tangible examples that make your offering special. That message will help you stand out and win business against competition that’s less focused and less committed. Go for the wow!

Gail Graham is chief marketing officer at United Capital, a national partnership of private wealth counseling offices. She is responsible for all aspects of marketing, branding and lead generation as well as business strategy and planning.