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We use the term marketing often, but we rarely talk about markets, the groups of people we market to. What does our market look like? Who’s in our market? If we don’t know who our market is, we’ll spend hours and dollars in vain, failing to generate results. On the other hand, if we know exactly who our market is, we will maximize our impact and results.

Market Frameworks

Sequoia Capital created a terrific framework for marketers and business professionals to use; it’s a prerequisite for any company seeking funding from them, and a framework every marketer should use to start defining who our audience is. The framework is three acronyms: TAM/SAM/SOM.


Total Addressable Market

Our TAM is your Total Addressable Market. In all of the world, what percentage of people broadly need the category of product or service that we offer? For example, suppose we work at an espresso chain that serves an amazing $8 espresso. Our total addressable market is anyone who drinks coffee.

The key question to ask about your TAM is: who could buy our category?

Where might we find information about our TAM? Market research companies have lots of data for sale, but our best sources may be free; government services often have reams of data to share. In the United States, we have:

Serviceable Addressable Market

The second area is the SAM, or the Serviceable Addressable Market. What percentage of the total market is serviceable or reachable for our product or service specifically? Using the example above, not everyone who drinks coffee likes espresso. Depending on the kind of espresso we serve, perhaps not even all espresso drinkers would like our espresso. Not everyone will be willing to pay $8 for an espresso, either. All these limitations shrink our TAM down to our SAM.

The key question to ask about your SAM is: who could buy our product specifically, regardless of vendor?

Key data about our serviceable addressable market comes from digital data sources, especially services like Facebook Audience Insights and Twitter Audience Insights.

Serviceable Obtainable Market

The final area is the SOM, or the Serviceable Obtainable Market. What percentage of the SAM is realistically obtainable? What piece of the pie can our business realistically convert into revenue? This is fundamentally about our market share and what we think our efforts will yield. If we have a brick and mortar espresso shop in Las Vegas, we are unlikely to serve anyone from the Boston market, or even the Reno market. If we have one of a dozen espresso shops in town, what percentage of the town’s population do we actually serve?

For digital marketers, our SOM is dictated by our ability to reach our audience. What size audience could we reach with our existing assets and budget?

The key question to ask about your SOM is: who is going to buy our product from us?

Key data about our SOM comes from data we already have, like Google Analytics™, our email database, our social media following, etc.

Market Mistakes

One of the most critical mistakes that marketers make is developing unrealistic views of their three markets. Many novice marketers and business executives say things like, “Well, EVERYONE can be our customer!”, which is only true for a few select industries (like funeral services). Most of the time, most people are not going to be our customer. Identifying who is our customer is the foundation of every great marketing program.

The more aggressive you can be in your whittling down of TAM, SAM, and SOM, the more focus you’ll bring to your marketing program, and the less money you’ll spend marketing to people who are ineligible or uninterested in your products or services.

Disclosure: this post was originally published in 2013 and has been revised and updated over time. The most recent revision includes new resources for finding TAM and SAM.

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4 responses to “3 Markets You Need to Know”

  1. I think that most companies don’t realize this. They are living in past times and time is going forward, their business is becoming smaller and for them suddenly end came.

  2. Well, in my case, is All Moviegoers my TAM? I’ve always been sketchy as I don’t believe I’m truly selling anything…

    1. In theory, yes, though you could make the argument that all moviegoers of genre X are your TAM.

      1. So then I would need to concentrate on my genre, as opposed to going for all moviegoers. Great tip, however, I do crossover several. Thanks, Chris.

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