Everyone understands the fundamental principle of marketing – you distribute your offering in a channel of your choosing, in an attempt to attract your target market. The concept is the same no matter if you’re a Fortune 500 company trying to launch a new product, or a 46-year old plumber from Pittsburgh trying to sell your old couch and is wondering what angle you should photograph it from to make it look more puffy and comfy in your ad.

What people generally don’t know, though, is that marketing needs to be broken down into numbers before you even start thinking about how to communicate. I have been hired to put together campaigns for back alley travel retail stores with a grand total budget of 300 dollars, and I have been in charge of one of the largest online retailers in the world that sells ten times that amount every other second. And it’s funny how it all comes down to the exact same thing in the end when the question is the same, “What is the best way to market ourselves in order to sell more?”.

I am not going to touch on things like your brand in this post. I’m not going to help you construct a fancy pants strategy on how to best utilize behavioral targeting on Facebook. This is going to be very hands on guide on how a dollar spent can become two dollars in sales, in the simplest way possible. Did I say two dollars? I meant 100 dollars.

What are you doing today?

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re working at a retail outlet, looking to perhaps increase foot traffic or get your name out there a little bit to help you sell more. So first of all, I’m going to ask you to look at what your customer process looks like now. How are your customers finding you today? Are you in an ideal location for random foot traffic with a great sign out front? Do you have a neat delivery truck with your website address on it? Are you buying various placements – a local radio spot here and a holiday clearance sale there? Have you tried a whole bunch of different things, where the results always end up somewhere between luck, meh, hopelessness and decent?

You communicate with two kinds of people. Those who are looking to buy what you sell. And those who are NOT looking to buy, but may end up buying anyway.

Forget all of that, and focus only on one question right now. What is it worth to get a customer through the door? There’s a pretty hands on way to find out, by simply observing what’s going on for a little while. So let’s assume for argument’s sake that 4 out of 10 people who come into your store end up buying, and that your average sale is $1000. Great. So for every 10 people in your store, on average, you make $4000, on average. Now you have one half of the magic number. You just need the other. Specifically, the number of people who will see your message and will ultimately end up standing in front of you going “I heard you guys sell excellent [insert what you sell here]!”. Well, how do you figure that out?

You only ever communicate with two kinds of people

First of all, you communicate with two kinds of people. Those who are looking to buy what you sell. And those who are not looking to buy, but may end up buying anyway. If you sell kitchen cabinets, you are going to spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to convince someone who’s not actively looking for kitchen cabinets to buy them from you. That’s a waste of your time, because for every 10 people who aren’t in the market, there’s one who is. And identifying that one person in many, many groups of 10 is where your focus should be. And so already you have ruled out a significant amount of potential outlets for your marketing that is not going to provide any valuable return on your investment, simply by using that logic.

Okay – so where should I actually spend my money?

By focusing your efforts on a cost per acquisition basis. Cost per acquisition in digital marketing is the concept of paying for your placement once actually get something out of it. Now, there are many great debates in the digital marketing world about what actually constitutes an “acquisition” – whether that’s someone who actually end up buying from you, whether that’s just a click on your ad, whether they end up on your website, or someone inquiring about a purchase. The fact of the matter is, an “acquisition” is different for every advertiser. But the main difference between an acquisition-based marketing strategy and a standard ad purchase, where you pay for the privilege of simply having your ad shown somewhere, is the risk reward ratio – if it works, great! You pay for the results and work the new leads you have. If it doesn’t generate anything, you move on to something else with your budget still intact.

Now, going back to your average sale number, and how many people on average end up buying – how much would a high quality lead be worth to you? The concept of quality lead generation requires a careful process of filtering out actual, genuine people with money in their pockets who want to buy from you. If you sell carpet in Atlanta, a lead would be someone within driving distance of your store looking to buy carpet, right? How much would you pay for the opportunity to stand in front of him or her and say hey, here’s what we offer? Would you pay $50 for an opportunity to quote someone who actually wants to buy from you? Yes you would. You would pay $100, because for every $400 you spend on these leads, you would get a thousand dollars back.

Why complicate things by shooting wide and hope for the best when you can simply acquire the right customers right away?