You’ve been working on your idea for months, years even. You know every in and out of your product’s features. You know every nook and cranny of your problem. You two are in love, and there is no separating you. If your love for your idea is anything like the love you’ve felt for a new girlfriend or boyfriend, you know it’s myopic and exclusive. When you fall hard for your idea you can easily forget the person for whom you are actually solving a problem.
Besides teaching entrepreneurs and counseling tech startups, I also run the Business Development Center in Asbury Park, NJ where I counsel product makers and small business entrepreneurs looking to launch their beloved ideas. I find that as much as these makers need encouragement to get started, they also need a reality check on who their market is – much like tech entrepreneurs.
A while back a woman came in with a homemade yogurt she had developed. It was delicious and expensive. I asked her who she was making it for. Everybody, she said.
I said is it for people who are lactose intolerant? No.
Is it for people who eat Dannon at half the cost? No.
Is it for people who only eat organic? Yes.
Then it’s not for everybody, I said.
My point with the yogurt maker was that she needed to define her customer and her customer’s point of view so she could modify her solution to align with her buyers’ needs and desires.
The same is true for your product. Do you know exactly whose problem you are solving?
In today’s post, I’ll outline specifically how you can figure out who your customers REALLY are, and why they make the buying decisions they do.
To help us along I’ll use the familiar analogy of a chef.
As good chef, you want to create a meal that will be enjoyable for your guests. An enjoyable meal increases the likelihood that your guests will either return for more or spread the word about your cooking.
To ensure they’ll like your creation, you’ll need to find out a few things beforehand:
- WHO are they?
- WHAT do they like?
- WHY do they like it?
- HOW do they get it?
Likewise as entrepreneurs, we need to do some research. Don’t be intimated by what you’ve heard about expensive market research projects; for now, you simply need to get out there and talk to people. Study their habits. Understand their preferences. Use the below suggestions to help you find the answers those three critical questions
1) WHO are they?
Your first task is to identify your customer base. This depends on what you’re selling, but also depends on a number of additional characteristics.
How big is your potential customer base?
Study to the market to understand how many people you can reasonably expect to be interested in buying something from you.
What does your ideal customer look like?
Detail the type of person that will buy your product. Include age range, income level, where they live, where they work, where they shop, how they get around, and any other potentially applicable demographics that you can think of. The more specific you are, the greater the likelihood that you will be able to communicate your offering to them and that they will respond.
Are they one-time or potential repeat customers?
There are two different kinds of customers with respect to number of purchases, and they each need to be treated differently. Understand if your customers are coming in every week or if they are only using service once. For example, if you sell muffins, you’re going to rely on repeat customers. If, on the other hand, you sell wedding cakes, you’re going to see a customer once and only once. Or twice.
Who are the actual buyers?
Maybe your ideal user is not the purchaser. If you’re running a soccer camp, your users are the kids, while your purchaser will be the parents. You will undoubtedly want to create an outstanding experience for the kids, but ultimately, your marketing focus, will be on the folks who sign the check. You will need to “sell” to both of them, but it’s important to recognize the difference.
Why will they come to you in particular?
What makes your ideal customer unique to you? What conditions or limitations will make them interested in doing business with you? Try to determine the one or two most important reasons you should be selling to them. This will focus your marketing strategy and get you the most bang for your marketing buck!
2) WHAT do they like?
In order to create something enjoyable for your guests (customers), you need to know what appeals to them. As you will see when you review your competition, there are plenty of options for consumers to spend their money on. A true understanding of your customers will differentiate you from the competition.
Why will these people be interested in what you are offering?
Focus on specific guests. Walk in their shoes and think about why they’d be interested in your product.
What do your customers like in terms of style?
Dig into their personalities. Describe what they enjoy doing, eating, reading. Think about how your business could provide some value to their daily habits and general lifestyle.
What level of service do they enjoy? i.e. Do they seek high-quality services and basic products, or vice versa?
This is an important question. You won’t be able to reach every person, all the time. Narrow it down. Review your business model and think about what level service/quality you’re trying to achieve. Match that with the type of person who’d be willing to pay for it.
3) WHY do they like it?
You need to understand why people like what you are selling. It could be your convenient location, your superior quality, or your excellent service. It could be a variety of other reasons. But there has to be a reason they’re buying from you and not someone else. Figure out what that reason is and get good at explaining it.
4) HOW do they get it?
Understand the buying process so you can disrupt it or insert yourself in it.
How are they going to buy it? From a certain distributor, can you insert yourself in that process and disrupt it.
The yogurt maker didn’t like my line of questioning and she left before I could help her develop her ideal customer’s point of view. Had she stayed we would have talked about the ideal retailer for her, whether a gourmet grocery, a heath food store or an online shop. And that’s a shame because it was really good yogurt. It just needed the right market.