20 Questions to Help Define and Find Your Ideal Customer

25 May 2017 7 min read

“Marketing” is a nebulous term that’s now commonly defined in terms of sales funnels and other jargon. But it once had a very clear-cut definition: it was all about promoting and selling your products or services to customers. I like to think of marketing as all the things we do to

  • reach new leads
  • identify which leads are genuine prospects
  • guide those prospects through their journeys to becoming customers
  • keeping those customers engaged and loyal.

With the ever-growing popularity of social media, it can be easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal of marketing: enticing both new and existing customers to buy from your business. Or, in one word, sales. So we should measure marketing success not by the number of likes on social media, but by how much extra profit can be attributed to our investment in marketing.

Marketing resources are always limited, so one of the best ways to improve this marketing return on investment (ROI) is to focus your efforts on leads you’re most likely to convert: your ideal customers. These are the customers who are looking for exactly what you’re offering, and they usually account for over 90% of a company’s sales. And they’re motivated to buy, so you won’t need to spend lots of time and money to get them across the line. That means your cost of customer acquisition is lower, giving you a bigger profit.

It’s a concept that seems obvious when you see it written down, but surprisingly few businesses give it the attention it deserves. That’s often because business owners worry about missing out on other customer opportunities as a result of narrowing their audience. But when you think about it, this fear is unwarranted. If you spend your marketing budget on a campaign tailored to your ideal customers, your conversion rate is likely to be high and your audience will be engaged. If you run a general campaign instead, you’ll be diluting your brand message. Not only will your conversion rate be lower, you’ll miss out on those ideal customers—the ones who bring higher profits in the short and long term—because you weren’t really speaking to them.

So How Do I Define My Ideal Customers?

There are several different approaches you can take to define your ideal customers. Some experts recommend creating customer profiles that focus on customer attributes and outcomes; others swear by customer personas that help you picture a distinct character who sums up your target audience. In my opinion, one of the problems with the latter is that it’s easy to fall into stereotyping and forget that your ideal customers might look nothing like your customer persona, despite sharing some similarities. So make sure every member of your team understands your approach to the problem you’re trying to solve: finding a way to narrow your campaign focus.

My preferred approach is to play a game of twenty questions about what our customers want from us, and vice versa. I start with a defining product—one that’s at the core of our offerings—and then work my way through the list. As I answer the first few questions, I generate some broad characteristics about my ideal customer candidates. These narrow down as I rule out some of those candidates by working further through the list, until I’m left with a really clear description of one ideal customer and what they want from my business.

Here’s the list:

  1. What does the product do?
  2. How does it improve someone’s life?
  3. What problem does it solve?
  4. Who is affected by this problem?
  5. Where do they live?
  6. Where do they work?
  7. Where do they visit regularly, such as shops or schools?
  8. Where will they order and receive goods?
  9. What is their education level?
  10. What is their income?
  11. What are their hobbies?
  12. What stage of life are they at? For example, have they just graduated from school, or are they about to retire?
  13. Is there a life event that will trigger this purchase, such as having their first child or getting a promotion at work?
  14. Will they buy this product at a certain time of year?
  15. If they are a business, what industry are they in?
  16. If they are a business, how many employees do they have?
  17. Will they use the product at home, at work, or both?
  18. How will this product benefit them more than other products?
  19. Why will they buy from me, instead of buying elsewhere?
  20. Do I want repeat business from this customer, or advocacy, or both?

The last question is an unusual one. It’s aimed at identifying influencers within your customer base. For example, if you run an online pet-shop, you may have identified pet owners, farmers, and dog trainers as your ideal customer profiles. You’ll want repeat business from pet owners and farmers, who will both buy a variety of goods directly from you. The dog trainers only buy treats, which generates less direct income, but every single one of their customers hears about your brand—their value is in their advocacy.

Try to find three or four ideal customer profiles. You may discover that not all questions are relevant for each, and that’s fine. Wherever possible, base your answers on customer data you’ve captured through your sales or loyalty platform, or web analytics. If you don’t have access to this information, start asking your existing clients why they’ve chosen you.

But What Should I Do With The Rest Of My Customers?

That depends. You’re bound to have plenty of customers who don’t fit your ideal customer profiles, and that isn’t a problem in itself. The problem occurs when you’re spending too much time and effort in trying to get those customers across the line, and not seeing the return on that investment.

If certain customers are causing headaches, draining resources, or creating negative word-of-mouth, it’s probably time to let them go. But don’t write off the rest of your customers who don’t fall into the profile types. Just track them as another audience segment in your marketing campaigns. You never know—the work you do to connect with ideal customers might bring these guys across the line, too.

Now Where Can I Find These Ideal Customers?

That’s a great question, and it’s the key to creating successful campaigns from your customer profiles. You’ll want to find where your ideal customers are hanging out, and join them there. To do this, research the most popular social media platforms for your target demographic and learn how to use them properly so you don’t break any unwritten rules. Once you’re on the right platforms, search to discover hashtags, groups, pages, and influencers that are relevant to your customers, and join in the conversation.

Don’t limit yourself to social media, either. You can also connect with ideal customers through industry publications, podcast communities, and online forums. The best way to find these is with a simple web search for terms relating to the problem you’re solving. For example, if you’re selling anti-stink activewear, search for phrases like “washing stinky running shorts” or “how to stop gym gear from smelling bad”. You’ll find forums and social media groups where people are discussing the problem, and that’s your chance to jump in with an alternative solution. If you set up Google Alerts for these search terms, you’ll be automatically advised of new opportunities. You can also set up alerts for your business and product names.

Finally, if you haven’t segmented your email list, it’s time to get organised. Your ecommerce software solution should let you report on customer order histories, so you can make an educated guess about which segment each subscriber should move into. With your next mailout, mention the new categories, and include information about how subscribers can change their newsletter preferences.

By taking these steps to define, find, and connect with your ideal customers, you’ll make your marketing budget work harder to bring in more sales and a bigger profit for your online store. And it’s not just a marketing tool—it will help you develop new products or stock the right product lines to meet your ideal customers’ needs, setting you up for success long into the future.

Neto is a leading ecommerce platform designed to help your business grow across multiple channels. With inbuilt analytics, mobile-responsive themes, fully flexible navigation, customisable shopping carts, and a wide range of add-on integrations, Neto lets you create a perfectly tailored customer experience. If you want to know more about understanding your customers so you can tailor your marketing strategy, check out our blog post on defining your ideal customer.