Across thousands of conversations with business owners, I’ve heard one thing consistently when asked if they know who their customer is. Nearly every time, I get the same wrong answer. “Everyone is our customer.” It is perhaps the most consistent answer across any subject matter among business owners. I understand where it comes from, as well. They’re simply maximizing the potential, right? 

What makes this even more damaging is that the question of “Who’s your customer” sets a mindframe of how customers are treated. When they throw a wide net, then they treat all of the fish, shrimp and boots the same. There’s something inherently wrong with this mindset, since customers love to feel special. 

The best way to handle this is to discover specifically who the customer is, and then treat them like the niche group they are with their own customized message style. That means narrowing down the audience, not expanding it. There are a few ways in which I pursue this with owners, and the process is both fun and liberating. Fun, because the first thing I ask them is which of their customers they actually like serving. Forget about the rest. We start there, and build from the “desired customers” list. 

Small business is in a unique position where the brand and owner have a very high level of similarities. Honestly, until the brand is specified, the brand and owner tend to be identical. This is not the best way to do it, but it’s a natural course. And there’s nothing wrong with that. After the first batch of successful widgets have been sold, though, the brand needs to be identified, and part of that is to identify the customer. The specifics: who, where, when, and most specifically, WHY. Because let’s face it, if someone doesn’t understand why their customer buys, then they really don’t know anything about them. 

As the customer type comes into practice, or to be more specific, once you’ve got the image of your favorite customer in your head, it’s time to dig into their psyche. This is the only way you can build an empathy statement they will relate to and respond to. In my personal world, I call it the bottle-o-wine research night. Get comfortable, and become a fly on the wall of the conversations your customer type is already having. There are many ways to pursue this. Personally, I enjoy this step because I feel like I’m getting the cheat code to listen in on the conversation. They are talking. I’m listening. 

Find as many reviews as you can.

If you’re offering a fitness system and targeting seniors, then go directly to Amazon, Apple Books, Android Books, Audible, and find books about senior workout plans. Skip the one star reviews which are written in anger. And skip the five star reviews, which are too emphatically positive. Read the two to four star reviews and take notes. These people are speaking directly from their own perspective, speaking to the important things to them in this book. What was done well, what was lacking, are all insights into what is important to them. And “them” is your ideal customer. 

Join Facebook communities and Reddit threads.

Sometimes the groups are tough, but well worth it. In trying to understand the bluegrass music community for a client, I joined the group Bluegrass Memed, a private group of 11,000 bluegrass music fans, all posting the memes they hated, loved, and laughed at. It was the perfect insight, and I didn’t have to buy, prod, interview, or survey a single person. I saw 20 posts a day and hundreds of comments about what bluegrass fans liked, didn’t like, and even the keyboard warriors were giving me insight into what bluegrass fans valued. 

Quora and YouTube comments are golden geese.

These both take a bit more time digging, and a bit more trial and error. But the payoff is well worth the energy. Quora is a forum where people “ask quora”, and members of the community answer those questions. The benefit is that other users can upvote answers, which leaves the most relevant answers up top. Customers will both upvote and comment from a place of their greatest concerns and their greatest needs. Not seeing certain types of comments will reveal that the average customer isn’t concerned about that. An example might be ice cream fans not being bothered by the sugar content. But healthier eaters, a more specific niche market of ice cream lovers, are extremely interested in differences to dairy milk and alternative sweeteners. Users can access the Quora website, or download the app on their phone.

YouTube comment sections are a unique place of candor from customers. They’re watching a video about something they like, enough so to leave a comment. Study closely what they decide to talk about, if they are critical, praising or inquisitive. 

The greatest benefit any business owner can get from these channels is that they see customers in their truest form. No sales walls. No secret motives. No caution of being swindled. It’s a true glimpse into who they really are. 

Understanding customers like this allows for a business to develop an understanding of who they want to reach, what those customers are interested in, and how to appeal to their real interests. Take notes through this process, document highlights and thoughts. When done correctly, this will allow a business owner to focus their conversation to the people who really matter to them. They won’t put carefully crafted messages to people who are not going to find it useful or valuable, and therefore ignore it. 

Then study the material and use this data when crafting messages for content. The best examples are businesses that offer a solution to the customers that first attract the right people, and truly solve a problem. The worst examples (unfortunately, there are many) are businesses that only talk about themselves. “We do the best roof work in the city.” “Call in today and schedule an appointment for 10% off your quote.” “We’re now accepting new reservations.” 

Canadian psychologist and author, Dr Jordan Peterson remarked, “Stop talking to people who aren’t listening.” This is the practical method on how to effectively, and intentionally find those who have their ear in your direction. You only need the customizable skill to capture their attention. And it’s easier than you think.

Get more helpful content like this.

Share this story, choose your platform