Where There is a Will, there is a Way
There is some kind of magic that happens when consumers decide that they want something (Ever create a customer profile? Learn how in our FREE ebook). Where a need exists, entrepreneurs and businesses materialize seemingly out of nowhere to help provide it. It is said that necessity is the mother of all invention, and the same applies to a need in the market place. But there is a problem that I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately. It has to do with defining the ‘ideal’ customer.
A lot of times when an entrepreneur sets out to fill a need, they have their ideal customer right in front of them. Asking them to solve a specific problem. And they do. The result is a free exchange of goods or services for money. It is a voluntary transaction that is mutually beneficial to both parties, and therefore a very good thing. But what if there are no other customers asking for the same thing? Or what if you’ve maxed out the available opportunities? How do you find other clients that are a good match but may not know it yet? When you’re still growing your online business, figuring out how to get your message out to the people that want to hear it is a top priority.
So how many ‘ideal’ customers are there really out there? The truth is that there is a finite number of customers in general. If you’re targeting a niche (which is a great way to start out) you’ve already got a narrow focus. And the more you slice and dice the segments, the smaller your piece of the pie becomes. So is it possible to take that offering. an offering which solves a very specific problem for a very small subset of customers… and expand it to be something that a broader audience wants? Sure it is, but you don’t want to do it too early. You don’t want to do it before you’ve accurately defined and built relationships with at least one subset of customers. So how do you know if you really KNOW your customers?
You look like a nice customer. We should do business together.
Take a look at that phrase. Replace ‘customer’ with ‘man/woman/person’ and replace ‘do business together’ with ‘get married’. Seems crazy right? That’s because it is. You would never make that kind of commitment without getting to know the other person first (or maybe you would…but you get it). You need to know your customer before engaging in business with them. And they need to know you and the benefit that your unique solution can bring them.
When it comes to selling physical products, the benefits are often clear to those who need them. For example, most customers would not shop for furniture at a hardware store. The products are clearly distinct. But when it comes to services or online offerings, the line is often a bit blurrier. For example, if you’re reading this article because you are looking for a great Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, you may be in the wrong place. But the problem that a good CRM solves – knowing your customer – is very much at the core of what we are discussing here. So then the question is, can you still provide some value to a prospect that may not necessarily know about or want what you’re selling?
Absolutely. Again, you just need to know your customer (READ – SEO 101: Targeting Customers with Keywords)
It Starts and Ends with Knowledge
Some people may think that the ‘ideal’ customer means the one that is easy to obtain. The ideal customer. The one who knows exactly what they want. The one who knows that you are the best provider of it. The one that signs up without any questions or additional requests. The ideal customer is few and far between. In reality, you need to know what their primary problem is. The ideal customer doesn’t neatly fit into an entire industry. The ideal customer is an individual, with specific needs. That individual needs to feel that you’re taking the time to understand their needs, and then feel that you’ve got a compelling solution.
You need to know what challenges they face. You need to know the types of resources that they have at their disposal and what kind of time investment they’re willing to put in to solving them. You also need to understand what other solutions they may be looking at to solve their problem. You need to know everything that you can about them. Then, you need to know how you can help them.
So we know that the ideal customer is rare. We also know that there are many other potential customers that, while they may not exactly fit into the ‘ideal’ bucket, could still benefit from what you’re selling. If you’ve done your vetting and gotten to know them on an individual basis, you can then explain to them how your specific solution is right for them. To do this, you need to know your offer inside and out as well.
If every customer’s needs are slightly different, then a ‘one size fits all’ solution is not likely to work for them. Knowing the ins and outs of your offering can help you explain certain key benefits that may be crucial to one customer, but inconsequential to the next. You also need to listen carefully to what the customer is describing as their needs. Customers won’t always use the same language and terminology that you do, so probing and clarifying questions are a must. As you do this, help them to understand how your offer can uniquely help them, but do not over promise.
The impulse when prospects are interested and asking for things is to say ‘yes’. But saying yes to everything can get you into a boatload of trouble. That is why it is so important to thoroughly understand your offering. If you understand both ends of the discussion, you can have an honest and open discussion about how you can help solve their problem. This will ensure that you don’t promise something that you can’t deliver.
When the gap wedge falls short
In addition to this, it is also important for you to understand when the gap is too large. That the match is just not meant to be. Nobody benefits from a mismatch or empty promises. If your prospect is expecting one solution and receives another, they will be upset. If they are not willing to commit to a solution that isn’t in line with their expectation, you are setting yourself up for failure. And if you try to force the match, you will eat countless hours trying to provide a solution that the customer believes that they need and were sold, rather than the one that you can provide.
So we know that there are perfect fits: the ideal customer. We also know that there are bad fits: customers who want something that you’re not selling and aren’t willing to compromise. So the question again is: how do you expand when there is only a finite number of prospects out there? At the early stage, targeting a niche is the way to go. You can build up a solid customer base on which you can then expand. As you target more niche’s, you can translate what you’ve learned in each one into consistent takeaways.
Build a Bridge
So how do you do this? If you already know your customer and their problems, then the next step is to teach them about your solution. If you understand your solution well, and both parties are willing to understand each other (and at times compromise), then you’re already well on your way. A good bedrock for this type of partnership is facilitating a strong customer relationship by building trust and sharing knowledge.
Trust must be earned. Through what we’ve discussed so far, we believe that the best way to build trust is through two key factors:
- Know your customer – This one has been beaten to death so far in this article, but can stand to be stressed again.
- Deliver what you promise – Make sure your customer understands your solution. From pros to cons, they should understand what you’re providing to them and how it helps them. If they were one of those customers who originally sought another solution, they should also clearly understand how your solution is different.
- Be honest about expectations – Don’t just say ‘yes’. If there are challenges, be clear about what they are. Encourage a constructive conversation about how they can be mitigated.
- Stay in touch with them – Keep them updated on your progress. Answer their emails and return phone calls in a timely manner, even if it is just to say you’ll be back in touch shortly. Answer their questions directly.
- Get to know them – Taking time to build a relationship is crucial as well. If both parties are invested and genuinely want each other to succeed, they will understand when there are bumps in the road.
Don’t be blinded by the dollars
When opportunity knocks, we strongly encourage that you answer. Every opportunity is worth exploring, and some can truly turn out to be profitable. But recognizing the opportunities that do not play to your strengths is the key to working efficiently and scaling your solution. Do not mistake this as a plea to stay in your comfort zone. Quite the opposite. It all comes back to the relationship and communication, as well as the other 5 points that we outlined above. If you follow these guidelines and both parties are invested in the relationship, it will become obvious if the match is not meant to be. In these cases, if you’ve been honest and constructive and followed our steps, there is no reason that an amicable parting cannot be achieved.