October 14, 2015

How To Identify Your Startup’s Ideal Customer

Who’s your ideal customer?

Who’s the buyer who really needs and values your product….and they’re happy to pay for it?

Can you imagine what they look like, how they behave, their interests and motivations?

If not, you’re operating with one hand tied behind your back.

ideal customer

How come?

These are the customers who are going to power your business forward. They’re not only going to buy from you, but they’re going be evangelists and loyal, long-time customers. And it will be easier to keep them fat and happy.

It goes without saying your startup wants as many as of these customers as possible. They’ll make your business more efficient, and drive revenue and profits. They’ll help to shape and improve your product, as well as your marketing and sales activities.

As important, they will let your startup focus on customers who matter as opposed to customers who sort of need your product or customers who will create more work than they’re worth.

After all, you want customers who love using your product as opposed to customers who will complain that it has flaws, even though they won’t leave to use a rival product.

So, let’s look at creating the ideal customer:

The first step is mapping out basic information about them:

  • Age:
  • Title
  • Children
  • Responsibilities: Are they decision makers, influencers, worker bees?
  • Budget: Do they have money to afford your product and, as important, see good value in it.
  • Goals: what do they want to achieve – e.g. more sales, leads, efficiencies, productivity.
  • Interests
  • Problems, fears: What keeps them awake at night? What are the problems they are scrambling to resolve?
  • How do they research and make purchases (aka the buyer’s journey) – where do they get their information, what influences the buying decision, and what information do they need before pulling the trigger?

Armed with this information, you can begin to paint a better picture of the ideal customer. If it helps, give this person a name to make things more personalize.

As you move forward, you will want to add more details and attributes to provide a crystal clear picture of who to target. In some respects, it’s like have a well-articulated diagram when designing a house. To provide some insight, here’s what Lululemon’s ideal customer, Duke, looks like.

To be clear, the focus on the ideal customer doesn’t mean ignoring other kinds of customers. That would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. These customers have value (and boost sales) but they may fall outside your primary focus.

An important issue in attracting the ideal customers is making sure messaging aligns with their needs and interest. In this blog post, Lincoln Murphy provides some good example of startups (e.g. Zuora) that talk in clear language to the customers they want to attract. It’s like Zuora is saying, “If this sales and marketing approach really resonates with you, you’re our kind of customer”.

When it comes to identifying ideal customers in the non-digital world, John Jantsch talks about the “Talking Logo”, which is a verbal response to the question, “What do you do for a living?”. He says it needs to be quick, compelling and original. In my consulting business, my talking logo is “I help startups tell better stories”. It took awhile to develop, but it tells people what I do in a way that opens the door to more conversation.

Embracing the ideal customer can be a challenge because it means treating customers differently, or have more interest in particular customers. For startups desperate for revenue, this approach may seem counter-intuitive or exclusionary.

In the long-run, however, the pursuit of the ideal customer will make your business more disciplined and efficient. It will ensure people, time and money are focused on customers who will accelerate growth rather than throttle it.

If you don’t know your ideal customer, the time to do it is now!

If you’re looking to jump-start your startup marketing, I can help you make it happen. I recently published a book, Storytelling for Startups, that provides strategic and tactical guidance to entrepreneurs looking to embrace the power of story-driven marketing.

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