Starting a business is an exciting time, and it’s understandable that you want to introduce your new company to the world and believe that everyone – young or old, male or female, urban or rural, you name it – needs what you’re selling.
As a small business owner, you should feel enthusiastic about your business and confident about what it has to offer, and you need to be an evangelist for your business. But believing that everyone is your customer is counterproductive, because you’ll spend a lot of time, energy, and money trying to reach people who just aren’t interested.
Think about some of the country’s biggest companies. Though they’re wildly successful and have very broad customer bases, even they can’t claim “everyone” as their target market.
Walmart, for example, focuses on budget and convenience shoppers, promising “everyday low prices” to deliver on its tagline of “Save money. Live better.” Although it has more than 4,000 stores in the U.S. and sells groceries, electronics, clothing and nearly everything else you need to run a household, it doesn’t carry high-end or luxury goods because that isn’t what its target audience is looking for in its stores.
Just as everyone is not Walmart’s customer, everyone is not your customer. Here’s why that’s OK: You can’t please everyone. But there are people you can please, and once you figure out who they are, you’ve found your niche. Narrowing your scope to your actual and potential customers takes the pressure off “being everything to everyone” so that you can focus on delivering the products or services that your real audience gets excited about.
So, if “everyone” isn’t your target customer, how do you figure out who is? If you already have customers, you can analyze your customer data to find commonalities. With this information, marketing experts recommend creating buyer personas, fictional characters who represent your ideal customers.
Although they’re fictional, their qualities should be based on your actual customers. In addition to demographic information, you should include details about them that give you insights into who they are, what they want, the challenges they’re facing, the problems or pain points that are driving them crazy, and why your business is a good resource for them.
To learn more about your niche market, spend time in the online forums and groups they use to find out the questions they’re asking and the issues they’re dealing with, and dig into social media. Additionally, you could interview your existing customers, ask your sales team about trends they’re seeing in the market and analyze data from your POS system and web analytics.
Scour the places your customers spend time online, speak with them directly, and analyze your customer data to determine who your customers are.
The expert advice above on buyer personas provides a great starting point for determining who is your customer. Take things even further with the below step-by-step guide to creating a meaningful, accurate buyer persona.
After you identify your ideal customer, here are three things you can do with this knowledge.
Recognizing that everyone is not your customer frees you from chasing unprofitable leads. Identifying your target buyers helps you pinpoint which prospective customers are good fits for your brand so you can stop wasting your sales and marketing resources on people who have no interest in or need for what you’re selling.
Once you know who your customers are, it’s easier to connect with them, because you know where they are and what they want. So instead of addressing your “everyone” customers in broad, vague terms, you can speak directly to your target customers and get into the nitty-gritty details that show them you understand their needs.
That enables you to create the most effective marketing strategy, whether that means creating content that resonates with them on their preferred social media channel, running an email marketing campaign, or following up with them on the phone or in person.
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Knowing exactly who your customers are and how your business meets their specific needs and wants allows you to break away from the pack and become a specialist in your industry. Specialist knowledge can give you a competitive edge over the generalists who also operate within your niche.
Chances are good that, as a small business, you’re not going to be able to beat the Walmarts of your industry on breadth of product or service offerings, nor do you have the sales volume needed to win a race to the bottom. But you can offer specialty products or features that aren’t available elsewhere – such as those that are suitable for enthusiasts or professionals – or a level of service that isn’t provided by other companies.
Once you’re no longer selling to “everyone,” it’s easier to keep up with your customers as they change and to adapt your offerings to anticipate their future needs. It’s rare for an industry to remain stagnant; knowing your customers helps you pivot as industry trends come and go, technology evolves, or your customers’ needs change.
Understanding your customers and their needs also helps you identify how to expand as your business grows. For instance, this may mean bringing on more employees so you can offer additional customer support or investing in research and development so you can launch new products or add features your customers have been requesting.
Max Freedman contributed to the writing and research in this article.