The Secret to Finding Your Ideal Customers

by | Strategy

Need help finding customers? Not sure who they are or where they hang out? Your first step is to focus on identifying your target customers, and part of that process involves creating something called a customer persona.

If you’ve never heard of it, not to worry. I’ll explain everything. But if you’re thinking that it’s simply an imaginary customer you dream up — you’d be wrong, and you should keep reading.

What are the wants and needs of your target customers?

Let’s say you have a great business idea and you’re ready to bring it to life. Who is your target customer? Are they really willing to spend their hard-earned money on what you’re selling? If so, why?

Understanding your customer is the single most important element in building a successful business.

No matter how much funding you have and how life-changing your widget is, without customers (paying customers) you’ve got nothing. Once you know what people are looking for — what they want and what they really need — you’ll be ready to get to work building a company that meets those needs. 

The best way to get the data you need. 

There’s a secret to learning the wants and needs of your target customers. Talk to them! That means you’ve got to get out of the building — your house, your office, your classroom — and interview them. (This is known as field research.) 

Speaking directly to your target customers gives you the kind of insight and feedback that is essential to the success of any startup. Every decision you make about your offerings should be considered through the prism of information you gather from real people real potential customers. 

Nowadays, this is referred to as human-centered design or design thinking. But regardless of what it’s called, the result is a more successful, more profitable business. 

What customer personas ARE. 

A customer persona is a magical tool for understanding the goals of your target audience. It helps you distill the information you collect from your interviews, and apply it to a framework that helps you shift from what you think your customer wants to what your customer actually wants or needs. 

Customer personas…

  • ARE research-driven empathy.
    In other words, they offer a way to understand your customer’s thoughts, actions and feelings by stepping into their shoes.
  • ARE focused on customer goals.
    It doesn’t matter what you want – what matters is what the customer wants. What are they trying to accomplish? Why? Customer personas are an invaluable tool for uncovering this information.
  • ARE grounded in research.
    They are created based on field research (interviews). You can’t truly learn about your customers by sitting in your office talking on the phone, sending out surveys and researching on your computer.

What they ARE NOT. 

Customer personas…

  • ARE NOT personal opinions.

    As pointed out earlier, they’re based on research.

  • ARE NOT fake people.

    They do not come from your imagination, so you can’t simply think them up.

  • ARE NOT the same as demographics.

    Demographics are about statistical data. Personas are about the thoughts, feelings and behaviors relating to a particular aspect of customers’ lives.

More about demographics…

People with different demographics may have the same goals… and vice versa (those with the same demographics may have different goals).

Imagine a set of twins who live in the same home, with the same parents, etc. When it comes to their favorite desserts, one may love chocolate ice cream while the other loves pistachio — or hates ice cream altogether… and loves cake! 

Demographics are background research you may want to have before conducting your interviews. Then again, it may be better to wait until after your interviews since research can inadvertently introduce bias or assumptions.

Remember, demographics are simply facts and figures about who people are — something you can add after you’ve completed your interviews. 

Personas with DEPTH. 

The key to a great customer persona — one that helps you really understand your target audience — is detail.

Here’s what I mean:

When a customer describes some aspect of their life as being “inefficient” that’s not good enough. 

You need to dig deeper.

Are they talking about “hours wasted waiting on line?” “too many clicks to make a purchase?” 

What is the customer’s personal life like? Describing them as “married, 2 kids, lives in suburbs” isn’t good enough. It’s much more valuable to know “they’ve been working 15 years, been in the game for a while and know how to get the job done.” 

Ultimately, a valuable customer persona teases out the reasons why a person acts or behaves in a particular way.

A magical tool.

Listen, you don’t have to build a persona. But if you want to build a successful business, they’re invaluable when it comes to understanding what customers actually want and need. And let’s be frank, knowing your customer is the single most important ingredient in building a successful business. 

In my next post, I’ll map out for you how to find out what your customers really want — including the five questions you need to ask for a great customer interview.


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