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Business

How to Get to Know Your Customers

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This post is part of a series called Strategic Planning for Your Microbusiness.
What You Can Learn From Spying on the Competition
How to Tell Your Business Story

You're doing a good job of putting together your business plan. Your next step is to get to know your customers. Or, if you're just starting out, your potential customers. In this tutorial, you'll learn how that's done. First, let's take a look at why knowing your customers is vital.

Without Customers, You Don't Have a Business

Businesses run on sales. Sales come from customers.

Without customers, you have no business.

That's why it's so important to know your customers. You need to know their likes and dislikes. You need to know what they want that leads them to your business.

The better you know your customers, the better you can meet their needs. Ergo, the more sales you will make.

In other words, your business runs on keeping your customers satisfied.

Knowing your customers is particularly helpful when you're writing copy or creating marketing materials. When you know your customers, you can write your copy to them, in the language they would use.

1. Create a Customer Avatar

A good way of starting the process of thinking about your customers is by creating a customer avatar. This avatar is an individual that represents the characteristics of your typical or ideal customer.

Step 1: Know Why an Avatar Works

Writing a customer avatar helps you step into the shoes of your customers. By seeing the world from their point of view, you'll find it easier to sell to them.

Creating a picture of what your ideal customer looks like, you'll be better able to create marketing materials that speak to them, and a business plan that meets their needs.

In technical language, by creating an avatar, you're delving into the demographics and psychographics of your customer-base. You're learning facts about who they are — their gender, age, etc., as well as their interests, values and lifestyle.

Step 2: Ask the Right Questions

To start developing your avatar you need to ask yourself questions about your ideal customer. Sit down with a pen and paper and work through the following questions:

  • How old are they?
  • What's their gender?
  • Where do they live?
  • What's their job?
  • How much do they earn?
  • What's their relationship status?
  • What do they do in their free-time?
  • Which newspaper do they read?
  • What's their favorite TV channel?
  • What are their hopes and dreams?
  • What do they wear?
  • What are their political and religious views?
  • What are their biggest fears? What keeps them awake at 3 AM?
  • What makes them happy?
  • What frustrates them?
  • What do they find most relaxing?
  • What do they talk about with their friends?

Step 3: Get Creative

Now that you've got the basics down you can start to dig a little deeper. Make this process as fun as you can. The more you enjoy it, the more insights you'll generate.

You can create an avatar in any way you want. The more creative the better!

For example, you can:

  • Write their biography.
  • Browse magazines to find a picture of someone that looks like them.
  • Search baby naming websites to give them a perfect name.
  • Create the music playlist you think they'd listen to.
  • Choose a TV show they'd enjoy (and that you'd never watch), and sit down to watch it.
  • Conduct an imaginary interview with them to find out as much about them as you can.

Step 4: Bring it All Together.

Once you're done, summarize everything you've learned. You can do this on a single sheet of paper, or just create a folder of what you've created.

You will have learned two key things:

  • The wants your ideal customer has that your business helps to solve.
  • Your customer's outlook on the world, and what you can do to get their attention.

Step 5 (Optional): Create an Avatar of Your Typical Customer

If you're already in business, you can create an avatar of your typical customer to go alongside the avatar you've created of your ideal customer.

This is helpful in two respects. First, it helps you see the world from the eyes of your current customers. This helps you understand what you can do to better serve them. Second, it highlights the gap between your current customer-base and what you'd like in an ideal world. By becoming aware of the gap, you can start working to bridge it.

2. Learn How Your Customers Talk

You've got a picture of who your ideal customer is, their lifestyle, dreams and frustrations.

Next, you're going to learn how your customers talk.

Your business helps customers solve problems. They buy your products to meet a need or solve a difficulty they're having. When you can show how you do this in the language your customers use, selling becomes easy.

Your customers think "This business totally gets me".

They're sold before you do any selling.

So how can you learn to speak like your customers?

Step 1: Visit the Forums They Hang Out In

You know who your ideal customers are. If they went to an online forum, where would they go?

Forums are typically places people go to solve problems. By going to forums where your customers hang out, you're learning how they speak about their problems. Pick up on the words they use. You can use this language in your web copy, blog posts, emails, and other marketing materials.

Step 2: Look at the Amazon Reviews They Write

What books does your ideal customer read? What books do they read in your niche?

Head on over to Amazon and take a look at the reviews people are leaving on these books. Pay particular attention to the five star and one star reviews. How do people find these books helpful? What are the books helping them to do?

On the flipside, what do people find frustrating about these books?

All this is copywriting gold.

Step 3: Watch What They're Talking About on Twitter

With Twitter tools such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, you can easily track what people are saying about any word or topic.

Monitor what people are saying in your niche. Notice in particular the questions they have or the problems they share.

Step 4: Ask Your Customers for Their Opinions

You're doing great at getting a feel for what your customers want.

Now it's time to talk to them.

You can do this in several ways. If you're a small service-based business, with only a few clients, you can email them personally to ask if they'd be willing to answer a few questions to help with your business.

If you're an ecommerce business with hundreds or thousands of customers, you can create a survey using a service such as Survey Monkey and send it out to your email list.

If you're a real-world business, you can talk to your customers face-to-face or over the phone.

If you're just starting out, and you're able to search out the contact details of potential customers, then you can get in touch and ask if they'd be willing to complete a small survey.

If you want to keep things really informal, you can fire out questions to your fans and followers on social media.

Don't be afraid of doing this. People love giving their opinions! The worse that can happen is that a customer says they're too busy, or you discover a ton of stuff your business can improve on (which is actually a good thing).

What you decide to ask depends on what you'd like to know about your customers. Good questions include:

  • How did you discover [name of business]?
  • What was your reason for purchasing from [name of business]?
  • What made you choose [name of business] over competitors?
  • What do you like best about [name of business]?
  • What could [name of business] do better?

Open-ended questions like these will help you elicit interesting answers. The questions are about your business, because that makes it legitimate for you to ask them (asking about the personal lives of your customers might raise a few eyebrows!). But the answers you get will give you insights into what your customers want and need.

Step 5: Update Your Customer Avatar

You will have learned a ton by investigating how your customers talk. Feed this information back into your customer avatar, and tweak it as necessary.

3. Watch How Your Customers Behave

Knowing how your customers talk is great, but people often say one thing and do another. You'll get the biggest insights of all from watching how your customers behave.

Step 1: Check How Customers Use Your Website with Google Analytics

Google Analytics shows you where your customers are coming from to get to your website, and how they move through your website. Further, it can be set up to show what percentage of your visitors become buyers.

You'll learn a lot about what your customers want from the search terms they use to get to your site.

All of this is valuable information that helps you better understand your customers.

Follow this installation guide for Google Analytics.

Paid tools such as Crazyegg can give you an even more nuanced understanding of how your customers behave on your website. Split testing will also deliver insights into what best connects with your customers.

Step 2: Find What Customers are Looking For

The Google Keyword Tool is a free and easy way of finding out what people are searching for in your niche.

You can search for any word or topic related to your niche, and the keyword tool will suggest related keywords, and show monthly search volumes for each keyword. Look for the words and phrases that have the most monthly searches.

By knowing what your potential customers are looking for, you can tailor your business to meet their needs.

Step 3: Update Your Customer Avatar

Now you've learned about how your customers behave, feed back what you've learned into your customer avatar.

Over to You

Have you created a customer avatar? How useful was it in understanding your audience? What tools do you use to help you understand your customers?

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