Customers are the essence of why we launch products. Without customers, there is no business. You would think companies would obsess over defining and refining their customers, right? You might be wrong.
Some think defining customers is a job for the sales team, the e-commerce team, or the UX team. Some focus so much on who uses their product they fail to acknowledge that someone buys it too.
I hope to fix that for you in a simple, straightforward way. It shouldn’t take a major research project to get a common definition of your customers. I’ll share a few shortcuts.
Two Kinds of Customers
There are two kinds of customers; the customers you have and the customers you want. I use the terms Customers and Potential Customers in this article. If you want to add a descriptor in front of each feel free (my, our, your).
[Your] Customers are easy to define. They satisfied an unmet need with your product. They are your Customers.
[Your] Potential Customers come in four flavors.
Competitors Customers satisfied an unmet need with a product they bought from a competitor. They are another company’s customers.
Shoppers have a compelling unmet need and are exploring ways to satisfy it. They might be someone's customer already and preparing to make a change. Or they might be jumping into the pool for the first time.
Do-It-Yourselfers (DIYers) used their skill and ingenuity to satisfy their unmet need. They are their own customer and can be very difficult to persuade.
The Uncommitted are sitting on the fence and not taking action to resolve an unmet need. There are reasons why they are uncommitted. You just have to figure them out.
The purpose of these definitions is to be grounded in reality. Not everyone needs your product. Not everyone wants your product. But some do, and that's what you need to figure out.
Describe Your Ideal Customer
Take a moment to describe your ideal customer. List all the qualities and attributes that you can think of that make them ideal. For each attribute, you add to your list ask yourself “Why is this attribute or quality important?”.
Don’t hold back. Do this even if you haven’t sold a single product yet. I’ll wait.
I prefer to use the term Customer Profile over the term persona. Customer Profiles are a tool to codify the qualities and attributes of your ideal Potential Customers; to create a common definition.
A common definition of a Customer assures consistency in positioning, in the message, in marketing materials, in marketing channels, sales tools, and prioritizing product features.
Notice I wrote the plural form: Customer Profiles (as in more than one). Before you proceed, reflect on who is involved in making a decision to buy your product.
🙋🏻♀️ 🙋🏻♀️ 🙋🏻♀️ 🙋🏻♀️ How do Customer Profiles help define Market Segments? Find out more in the Beginner's Guide to Product Launch: Market Segments article.
I assume you have a clear understanding of who will use your product. Now take a few minutes to list all the people who get involved with buying it. This isn’t a request to trick you. It’s to help expand your perspective.
For some products, the people who use them are the people who buy them. For other products, the people who use them are completely removed from the buying decision.
Don’t imagine every possible buying scenario, just imagine the most common. Typically, who do you anticipate participates in a buying decision for your product for the ideal customer you listed?
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Evolve Customer Profiles Over Time
Customer Profiles have a basic form and an advanced form. The different forms increase the level of understanding and insight you develop about your potential customers.
Basic - Geographics and Demographics
Geographics tell us where they are located and demographics tell us something about who they are. This is the easiest form of a Customer Profile to build.
The purist will say that basic geographic and demographic attributes are not enough to do really good go-to-market planning. I agree. But you have to start somewhere and a basic Customer Profiles is better than none at all.
Here are a few easy techniques to get geographic and demographic information to build your first Customer Profile:
Talk to subject matter experts (SMEs) in your organization (assuming they have an understanding of the job and work to be done)
Talk to your customers if you have some
Survey your customers if you have some
Read LinkedIn profiles of people who match the ideal customer
Once you have acquired data, identify what attributes and qualities are common and use that as the basis of your basic Customer Profile
Advanced - Psychographic
Psychographic attributes put you in the big leagues of building Customer Profiles. At this level you’re capturing how your ideal customer thinks and feels. Your team develops empathy around a customer even if they have little personal contact with them by referencing Customer Profiles.
My favorite method for identifying psychographic insight is Empathy Mapping which is the first step in Design Thinking. Yes, it’s used to inspire innovation but it’s equally effective at understanding the people who buy your product.
Empathy Mapping is a great team exercise and it uses two of my favorite tools: sticky notes and whiteboards.
Even in a time of the COVID19 pandemic, you can still pull off Empathy Mapping sessions. At BrainKraft we use Miro for virtual whiteboarding sessions (it has sticky notes built-in). There are other good virtual whiteboard solutions. Find one that works for you.
A web search of “how to conduct an empathy mapping session” returns many options to choose from.
Before you conduct an Empathy Mapping session I advise you to get your own data. You want to avoid turning it into an imagineering session or merely reverse-engineering your Customer Profile from your product.
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A Free Customer Profile Template
Below find a link to a MS Word version of the BrainKraft Customer Profile.
Before you rush to fill out the template I want to remind you that the point of building a Customer Profile is not how fast you can fill out the template. It’s about building understanding and empathy. Get the data first. Find the common threads. Fill out the template last.
Connecting Customer Profiles and Market Segments
As you learn more about Customer Profiles you will find it helps refine your Market Segment definitions. As you learn more about your Market Segments it drives curiosity about your Customer Profiles.
For your next product launch get started building Customer Profiles. Start with a basic form (geographic and demographics) and leverage what you learn to expand into an advanced form (psychographics).