The word customer is, perhaps, the most important word in the language of business. Without customers, we don’t have a business. Or if we have one, we won’t have it for very long. Yet in my years of working with businesses, I have found them woefully ignorant about their customer.
The reason for this, however, is not a lack of desire to serve their customer, but rather a lack of focus. Unfocused businesses do one thing for one customer one week, another thing for another customer the next, and a third thing for a totally different customer after that, never specializing with one kind of customer or one kind of service.
Like the sign I saw on vacation once above the door of a small business. It read, “Tax Preparation and Massage.” Very confusing. Do I get my taxes done, then have a massage? Or the other way around? (This is a true story. I have the picture to prove it.)
Businesses “diversify” like this under the grave misconception that this what they need to do to survive. It achieves just the opposite. It spreads their limited resources an inch deep and a mile wide, never really serving anyone with the depth and quality it takes to build a loyal following. That is, being a inch wide and a mile deep.
Find Out the Facts and the Feelings
Knowing your customer begins with acquiring basic facts about age, gender, work habits, living conditions, and income levels of the person most likely to buy your products and services in sufficient numbers to allow your business to thrive. This information must must be as familiar to you as your own name. With the volumes of data available today, there is no excuse for being in the dark on this.
As important as good demographic information is, however, you must use that information to go deeper. Human beings are much more than their statistics, and you must uncover what a your customer needs, desires, wants, demands from a business like yours. Data is just a starting point, so dig down deep for the emotionally compelling reason that motivates your customer to purchase the products and services you provide. Who is your who and what do they want?
Depth of understanding like this can’t be done at a cursory level, but it must be done to build a loyal following over time. Which company will you chose to do business with, the one that knows your needs deeply, almost anticipating them before you do, or the one that barely gives you the time of day? In other words, if everyone’s your customer, no one is.
Identifying the person who’s most likely to buy your products and services in sufficient numbers to allow your business to thrive (Yes, I know that’s a mouthful, but every word of that statement is key), takes some time. It may require you to list every customer you’ve ever served and dredge throughout the data until you find your focus. But you must do this work.
Master The Art and The Science
Getting it right is part art and part science. Over the years I’ve found the advice of my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Pearson, to be incredibly helpful. She told our class when she assigned us our first ever report, “Pick a topic that’s big enough to find information on, but not too big to bog you down.” I followed her advice in graduate school when I chose the topic for my thesis and follow it in business as well. If the world is your customer, that’s too big of target. You’ll waste lots of time and energy trying to master that subject. But target too narrow a niche, and you’ll unnecessarily limit your growth.
For example, the primary customer I serve is executive leaders. I define an executive leader as a person in an organization, large or small, with the responsibility for generating top-line revenue. Every day, every week, every month, every year there’s a number they have to hit, and hitting it is essential to their success. They’re the hunters for their tribe and have hungry mouths to feed. So they want to get better at the hunt. That is, they’re intent on growing their business and they want business strategies that work.
This target is big enough to include a Chief Sales Officer at Fortune 500 firm and an entrepreneurial leader at start-up company. But the target is narrow enough to give me tremendous insight into what these leaders need: real answers that make them money, and no fluff. I love this kind of clarity. It has not always been this way in my business, however. There was a time when all you needed to do to engage my services was fog a mirror and sign a check. Defining my primary customer in this laser-like manner, however, has resulted in doubling my annual income in the last two years in a time when many solo consultants have shut their doors.