Your small business has had some initial success: You’ve got a great product or service, the quality is there, and people are buying. But you know you’ve still got a lot of room for growth. Marketing is expensive and only getting more costly due to inflation and a crowded marketplace.
How do you continue to grow, at a price you can afford?
And yet, many small businesses hesitate to define a clear target customer, often for one of the following reasons.
Concern #1: “I don’t want to exclude people who don’t land inside a narrowly defined target customer persona.”
Solution: Think of a dart board. Your target market is the entire board, your target customer is the bullseye, and there may be intermediate rings as well. For example, perhaps your target market is service professionals; the outer ring is coaches, consultants, trainers, and speakers; the inner ring is coaches; and the bullseye is coaches who want to move from one-on-one coaching to one-to-many courses. Depending on what audience you’re speaking to, you can tailor your message to any of these audiences, but especially to the bullseye customer.
Ironically, when you try to market to everyone, your message tends to resonate with fewer people. But when you market to your ideal customer, you’ll not only attract raving fans, but also bring in good customers who may be just adjacent to your target customer profile.
Concern #2: “I don’t have the time or expertise.”
Solution: You may be surprised to discover there’s a wealth of easily accessible data once you look for it. In this article, we’ll explore the possibilities for free or low-cost data sources in detail.
If your small business keeps you so busy that you struggle to find even a few hours to do this type of important strategy research, consider first implementing automation. By automating repetitive tasks like follow-up, client onboarding, and internal processes, you may be able to save hours per week that can then be used to grow your business.
Now that we’ve resolved your doubts about the process, let’s look at what criteria to use in your customer targeting.
What makes an ideal target customer
So what exactly makes a customer ideal? Use this criteria to start:
- They “just get it.” They understand the value of your product or service without much convincing. Often, these people come looking for you, or practically had their credit card out the second they showed up.
- They’re easy to serve. They require less time and energy than other customers to be happy.
- They’re more profitable. They make bigger purchases or more purchases over their lifetime as a customer. After they buy from you once, it’s fairly easy to sell to them again.
- They refer business to you. They become fans of your small business, give glowing testimonials, and recommend you to others.
- You enjoy working with them! You may have the potential to help a lot of people, but by starting with the ones you like the most, you’re setting yourself and your customers up for success.
Think about your favorite customers. You probably want more people like that, right?
Make a list of your best customers and look for things they have in common. Not just in terms of demographics — what makes them fit the criteria above? For example, if you offer event planning services, perhaps your ideal customer is an experienced event host (as opposed to a first-time host) because they know how to work effectively with event planners and have reasonable budget expectations.
Now, let’s dive into five ways you can find more of your ideal customers.
1. Conduct customer interviews or surveys
The most straightforward way to get data from your customers is to ask for it. Oftentimes, customers will tell you exactly what they’re looking for.
You can ask customers to:
- Fill out a survey
- Reply to a question via email
- Talk to you in a one-on-one interview
Surveys are relatively easy to put together, but it can be challenging to get customers to take them. Incentives are often needed, which requires a budget.
An alternative to an official survey is the “one question” email survey. For example, email a group of your best customers and ask them to reply with their input on one question — your most pressing question.
One-on-one interviews allow for more personal interaction, and you can ask deeper questions based on their responses to your initial questions. Be sure to get a broad sample of your best customers so you’re not basing your conclusions on the feedback of only a few.
EJ Steele, a Keap Onboarding Coach, recommends that his clients use VOC (voice of the customer) surveys to identify customers’ pain points, segment them according to their needs, and then use that data to connect their business offerings to customers’ needs.
For example, one of EJ’s clients, Suzette, set up a survey asking customers to rank themselves according to their results. Their answers, in the form of a percentage, goes into a custom field in Keap’s small business CRM, which Suzette then uses to match her products and services to meet their current needs.
2. Get feedback from your customer-facing teams
Your sales, customer service and technical support teams — or anyone in your company who regularly interacts with customers — are a goldmine of customer information. Ask them about trends they notice, common questions and concerns, and ideas for attracting and retaining more of your best customers.
You can simply start by asking them: Who is our best type of customer, and why?
If you conduct customer satisfaction surveys as a part of your accountability system for your customer-facing teams, study this feedback to see if the comments can give you any clues as to what type of customer is more likely to:
- Call in for support
- Give a positive review
- Feel dissatisfied
- Be easily satisfied
Look for trends that give you insights into qualities of the best target customers — and ones to avoid.
3. Mine your CRM for demographic and behavioral data
If you use a small business CRM like Keap, use the reporting features to search for customers who:
- Buy the most often (frequency)
- Make the biggest purchases (dollar value)
- Frequently and/or recently clicked the links in your emails
- Have a pain your new product is really good at solving
- Visited your pricing page but didn't buy
For example, a prospect who has recently clicked links in your emails multiple times might be ready to schedule an appointment with you.
If a customer clicked on a link to the landing page for your new product, and didn’t buy, yet has opened every email about the new product, they’re probably very interested but hung up on something. They’d be a good candidate for outreach by your sales team, more so than someone who hasn’t opened your emails or clicked the links.
4. Listen on social media
Reading through the comments on your social media accounts, and those of your closest competitors, can reveal a goal mine of information that you can use for customer targeting.
For example, Lindsey Ardmore, owner of Star Tower Systems and a Keap Certified Partner, recommends that her clients hunt around on social media when they get stuck trying to figure out their messaging.
“People are telling you EVERYTHING you need to know without even realizing it,” Lindsey says.
She tells the story of a client who was breaking into a new niche and could not get the messaging to land.
“Everything she put out led to nothing but crickets. She wanted to give up. But instead, we looked at her closest competitors and adjacent services providers. It was a gold mine of information in the comments, posts, and reviews. She discovered what her new audience was thinking and what they were struggling with. She was able to listen and adjust her messaging and break into a new audience without second guessing or missing the mark.”
5. Look at your website and blog performance data
Use Google Analytics to see which of your website pages — especially content pages like blogs — get the most engagement. Some metrics to look at are:
- Number of unique visitors
- Time on page
- Bounce rate
- Traffic sources
- New vs. returning visitors
What keywords are getting users to land on which pages of your site? What do their questions tell you about them?
Your most popular pages can give you clues to what people are most interested in on your site. But keep in mind that utilization of free resources doesn’t always lead to purchases. Landing pages with a single call to action that takes the person to the next step in your sales funnel will often give you the best data.
What to do with the customer data you’ve gathered
Use the data you've gathered to build or refine your buyer persona(s). Document things such as:
- Needs (pain points)
- Wants (desires)
- Values and priorities
- Types of content they prefer to consume
- What kind of buying experience they prefer
- Critical aspects of the buying decision
- Demographic data (age range, gender, profession, income, education, etc.)
You may find it helpful to use empathy mapping as an exercise to refine your customer persona(s) and generate messaging ideas.
Once you’ve got a clear idea of who your ideal target customer is, a customer journey map can help you lay out the ideal experience for that customer.
Then, you can write messaging to appeal to that customer and organize your small business CRM with automatic sales and nurture sequences designed to meet their needs.
This process happens in stages, and you’ll constantly refine your customer targeting as you gather more data. Do what you can now with what you have to work with, and keep improving as you go.