One of the most important things you’ll do early on when you’re designing a go-to-market strategy or launching a new offering is deciding on your target customer.
It’s an important first step because the customer you choose will also dictate how you build your product or service, and the way you market it.
At the same time, I know it can be a challenge to settle down on an ideal customer profile to work with!
If you’re launching something new, you might not have enough information about potential customer needs or you might not want to pigeon hole yourself to the wrong target audience too early.
That said, it’s important to start somewhere and have a hypothesis you’re willing to test. “Spraying and praying” your sales & marketing effort doesn’t work — especially when you’re limited in time, money, and energy.
If you’re having this type of challenge, take a moment and open up your favourite writing tool. I’ve outlined four key questions below to help you get closer to finding your target audience. This activity should take about 30-60 minutes of initial reflection.
1. Who will you have the most fun working with?
You might be wondering why “fun” is at the top of this list. After all, if you’re trying to build a business, and fun really has no place for something so serious… right?
I’d argue that elements like fun, creativity, and joy should be at the top of any important project you take on. In our adult years, we’ll spend more time with our colleagues, teams, and clients than we do with our friends or family (!!!), so why spend that time working with people you don’t genuinely enjoy spending time with?
When you ask yourself this question, an interesting shift happens. Instead of focusing solely on the industry, size of the company, title, etc. of an ideal customer, your focus shifts more to the type of person and organization you’d enjoy working with. In marketing terms, we shift our focus from demographics to psychographics.
When I ask myself this question, a few follow-up questions about my ideal customer emerge:
What are they like?
What motivates them?
Do they care about the people around them and the culture they build?
Do they value integrity and creativity?
Is the work they do more than just a “job” for them?
Obviously it’s more challenging to find people with a matching mindset than it is to look up someone with a specific title or in a certain industry or company size.
At the same time, we have more effective tools available these days to attract like-minded people. This blog is a good example of that. If you’ve read my piece this far, it’s likely you care about the same things that I do.
So take a moment to think about the people you might enjoy working with the most. Imagine you have five open seats around a table. If you were to form an advisor panel with these five customers, who would you want in those seats?
2. Who can you create the greatest impact with?
This question is all about the value proposition of your offering.
When you think about impact, what you’re really asking is whether your product or service will solve your customer’s problem. So it’s crucial you spend time developing a solid customer profile and understanding their pains and gains.
Here are the key questions to consider when you start this process:
- What jobs are they trying to get done?
- What pains are they experiencing?
- What gains are they looking for?
If you asked them about their current challenges or concerns, what might they say to the following questions?
- What are the main difficulties and challenges you encounter? Do you have difficulties getting certain things done, or meet resistance with particular jobs for specific reasons?
- What do you find too costly for your business? What takes a lot of time, costs too much money, or requires substantial efforts?
- What negative consequences do you encounter or fear? Are you afraid of a loss of face, power, trust, or status?
On the other side of the ledger, what might they say to things that they want or desire?
- How do current value propositions delight your customers? Which specific features do they enjoy? What performance and quality do they expect?
- Which savings would make your customers happy? Which savings in terms of time, money, and effort would they value?
- What would make your customers’ jobs or lives easier? Could there be a flatter learning curve, more services, or lower costs of ownership?
By going through these questions, you’ll likely get a better picture of whether your product or service will meet the needs for your customers
(For further reading about this topic, I recommend reading Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder for a step-by-step process to create a strong value proposition for your product or service.)
3. Based on your experience, which clients do you understand best?
If you have past experience working in a particular industry or segment, this is a good time to think about where you can leverage this. You already have a good sense of what the challenges look like for this group and you might be able to achieve early success by targeting this group.
One thing I think about is the Blue Ocean Strategy developed by Renee Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. Instead of fighting for a spot in a highly competitive market (i.e. red ocean) how can you create a unique offering where you create the demand (i.e. blue ocean).
By thinking about the combination of which clients you understand best and mixing it in with a unique offering, you might be able to create a blue ocean for your business.
4. Who would it be most profitable to work with?
Finally, take a moment to think about profitability.
Insights here could come from your past experience working with different customer segments, research that’s publicly available, conversations with colleagues & peers, or anywhere else you can think of.
Industries that are experiencing substantial change or growth might be a good group to target as they often have unmet needs or opportunities where you can create a Blue Ocean Strategy around.
Profitability doesn’t just mean how much gross revenue you can generate with a customer base. If you have a customer base that’s difficult to work with, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time providing customer support or post-sale services that will eat into your profits.
Which clients will be the most satisfied with your offering just as it is? If customization is required, what parameters can you set so that you’re not modifying every last detail?
Putting It All Together
Whether you’re a leader in Sales & Marketing collaborating with your Product team to create a new offering or you’re an business owner keeping up with new customer demands, it’s important that you nail down the target customer first. I hope the questions above sparked some ideas and thoughts for you to further explore!
Finally, it’s worth keeping in mind that all of this is a balance, and the questions above should encourage you to establish principles rather than rules with who you work with. Principles help guide your decisions and are more adaptable than rules which tend to be more rigid. Regularly working with all parts of your business to keep your ideal customer profile will be important as well as major events or shifts in the market may change the expectations and behaviours of your customer.
What was most useful for you in this article?
What has worked for your business in deciding on a target customer?
I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts below.
P.S. I’m running a workshop on Tuesday, November 10th at 12pm EST to help leaders frame any business challenge. We’ll use fun, interactive activities to help you figure out what your key obstacles are and how you can solve them. If you’re working on any BIG challenge or project, I hope you’ll join me there.