Start Small, Go Slow, Get It Right

A novice entrepreneur is eager to plunge into the online marketplace. Seasoned hands, however, stress the need for extensive research

By Karen E. Klein

Q: I have just developed a proprietary product that I want to market to online retail stores. Are there services that can develop an online mailing list that will zero in on my market?

---- B.B., Gibsons, British Columbia

A: There are sources and services that can help you locate online retailers, but you may want to step back before launching a mass-market e-mail campaign this early in the game, experts say. When you're starting out, the last thing you want is to become a victim of your own success -- and if you wind up with more initial business than your production capacity and budget can handle, you may risk just that.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may spend a considerable sum doing a sterile mass-marketing piece and getting zero return because you have no reputation and no relationship with your potential customers.


  Better to start off with a small list of "can't miss" target clients that could serve as great reference accounts down the line, says Joel Davis, an online marketing specialist and CEO of Starting with a manageable number of clients will help you grow your company. "Your strategy here should not be volume, but maybe five strategic accounts that will enable you to make sure the process works and prove your company's worth and viability," says Davis. "Once you've got them on board, then you can expand out and show additional clients the names of those who picked up your product early on."

Having a few companies that are widely recognized in your industry on that original client list won't hurt, he says. Reaching those strategic accounts, however, will take more than mass e-mails. Personal contacts, phone calls, and individual e-mail introductions will be more likely to get you a hearing.

You also need to take the marketplace into account. First, many Internet-only stores have disappeared of late. Second, given the difficulties many name-brand retailers have had with their online divisions, there's a good chance you will have to approach the retailers' "bricks-and-mortar" merchandisers and buyers with your pitch, says Stan Freidman of WorldCom marketing consultancy in Oakland, Calif.

"Depending on what your proprietary product is, I'd suggest developing your own initial test mailing list of desired targets and working them personally, direct one-on-one," Freidman says. "I'd never rely on any service to develop a list at the outset that could determine the success or failure of a business that I know better they they do."

Start researching and compiling your list using such resources as MediaMetrix, which compiles addresses of the top Web sites in various categories, Red Herring Communications,, and B2B Network. You could also look for online retailers that fit your target by using various Web search engines and whittle down the results to come up with an initial group of potential clients. Best of luck.

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