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Business plans and Market Analysis

The Market Analysis

by Al Lierman

An important part of any good business plan is the Market Analysis. Before you can describe your marketing and sales strategies, you need to figure out what market you serve and what need you fulfill. Then, your Marketing Strategy and Implementation Plan, ideally covered in the next section of your business plan, will fit into a logical flow.

I have read many business plans that make the mistake of starting a Market Analysis section, only to wander off into a description of what the company sells, how it will promote its products, and how its product or service is different. These are all undeniably important points; however, they deserve a their own section and should be addressed in turn.

Let's start with what a market is. A market, in this instance, refers either to a place where goods can be sold, or to a particular class of buyers. So the market is the "Where?" that your product or service is sold, and the "Who?" you sell it to.

So what should you include in the Market Analysis section of your business plan?

Size of the Market

The first number you need to identify is the total annual sales, in dollars, of the market you serve. If you are selling cars, state the total sales of cars in your geographical area for the most recently ended year. This number will be important later when you forecast your sales because it will enable you to calculate what share of the market you expect to capture.

Besides stating the current size of the market, it is also valuable to include forecasts of the future size of the market. Such market projections should be offered only if they come from acknowledged government or research organizations. Certainly you can make up your own projection, but it will lack the credibility of a recognized authority on the subject and probably will serve only to make you look amateurish.

Market Segments

There are several ways that you can break a market down into segments. Doing so will help you and the reader of your plan understand where your specific product fits into the total market, and who the potential customers are.

Geography and Location

It is a good idea to indicate the geographic segments of your product's market, especially the market in which you sell. If you are an international company, then describe the size and characteristics of the international market. If, on the other extreme, you only sell to customers within 10 miles of your location, then provide information about this local segment.

Customer Segments

On one level, all customers who a buy a particular product make up that product's market. But, not all buyers of the product buy it for the same reason. For example, buyers of Personal Computers can be segmented into business users and home users. This type of market segmentation is essential because your marketing plan, which you will present later, will describe your strategy for targeting these customers.

Further segmentation might be called for in many cases. To continue with the PC example, if your business is selling servers to corporate clients, it makes sense to identify the portion of the PC market that is businesses that buy network servers. The more detail you can provide about the customer segments that you target, the better.

The level of detail you provide about your market's customer segments depends on the level of detail in your marketing plan. Any customers you intend to pursue with your marketing strategy should be identified and quantified in the market analysis section.

This section is also an appropriate place to provide a profile of your target customer. This profile should include any demographic or psychographic information relevant to buyers of your product or service. For business customers, provide statistics about the size of the typical client firm, number of employees, location, or industry.

Market Trends and Needs

Once you have described the segments of your product's market, explain the trends, growth, and needs of the market. Turn your focus especially to the trends in the market segments within which your product fits. In this section you should provide statistics for the growth in the market over the last five to ten years. If you can provide forecasted growth rates from an acknowledged agency or research firm, do it.

If your market segment is growing and is projected to continue to grow, talk about it and back it up with numbers. If the trend is for new products like yours to sell well and replace older models, then say so. Ideally, the trends you identify should support the positioning statement and marketing strategy that you are about to present.

As for market needs, a business plan can make a powerful statement about a company's chance for success if it can show a need in the market that is unmet or underserved, and then present the company's product as the perfect solution to that problem.

Venture capitalists and angel investors often refer to products as either painkillers or vitamins. Painkillers tend to get the most funding because they are products that, as soon as they come out, people have to have them. Vitamins are products that are good, useful, and maybe even important, but we can live without them.

The ultimate goal of the Market Analysis is to show where the burning need, the source of the pain, is in the market. In the best business plans, the Marketing Strategy describes how the company will position its product to ease the pain.

Industry Analysis

The final section of the Market Analysis is the Industry Analysis. Where the earlier sections of the Market Analysis dealt with issues of who buys the product and where they are located, the Industry Analysis addresses the making and selling of the product: industry participants, distribution patterns, and competition. A thorough discussion of these aspects of the industry will provide a good overview of the industry to a reader who is otherwise unfamiliar with it.

Industry Participants

Industry participants are those firms and individuals that are involved in at least one aspect of bringing the industry's product to its customers. Examples include manufacturers, suppliers, service providers, wholesalers, distributors, dealers, and reps.

For example, an analysis of the book publishing industry would identify participants such as authors, agents, publishers, book manufacturers, book wholesalers, bookstores, and book clubs.

Distribution Patterns

If you are dealing with a physical product you will probably want to describe how it is distributed, from the time it is created until it makes its way into a customer's hands. Explain the various ways that finished products are distributed, whether directly to end users, through wholesalers, from wholesalers to retailers, and so on.

A company can often distinguish itself, even if it does not have a unique product, by providing a new way to sell or distribute the product to its customers. Dell Computer offers a great example. The company has been successful not because its PCs are better then any other company's; it has made a fortune because it revolutionized the way computers were manufactured and distributed to consumers. It configured its products to its customers' specifications and sold them direct rather than prebuilding them and selling them through distributors as its competitors did. In short, it's success was based on a better business model more than on a better product.

Competition

Once you have identified all of the industry's participants you are in a better position to explain where your company fits in. Unless you have a completely new concept or product with no competition, your industry analysis should include a thorough discussion of your competitors. I have seen many first-time plan writers gloss over this section or ignore it altogether. Don't make this mistake.

Any smart venture capitalist, angel investor, or lending officer recognizes that every business has competition. By avoiding this topic in your business plan you will show your reader one of two things: either you are nave about your competition and have not done your homework, or you are less than forthcoming and are hiding something. What's more is that you miss an opportunity to show exactly how your proposition is unique and different from your competitors'.

Conclusion

The Market Analysis section of your business plan is a great place to show that you know your business inside and out. Stick to the concept of describing the market and the industry as they exist today, a sort of situation analysis. If you do it right, the stage will be set for you to present your plan for conquering the world in your Marketing Plan and Strategy Implementation section immediately following the Market Analysis.

Alfred A. Lierman, President/CEO Planigent. Reprints only with permission and with author reference and all links intact.

 
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