ga('send', 'event', 'button', 'click', 'nav buttons', 4);

The Secret to Learning About Your Customers

Who is your target customer?

This is one of the first questions that I ask business owners when helping them to build a marketing strategy. Some respond with a well thought-out answer, and others make it up on the spot. Regardless of which group they fall into, most of these answers share one trait: they're bullshit.

I say this because the vast majority of these answers are based on assumptions. Most of these responses are derived from a brainstorming session that consists of business owners making assumptions about the needs of their customers. When questioning who their customers are, they allow hubris to take over and skip the most essential part of defining their customers: listening to their customers.

Right about now, you may be thinking, "Pat, that's much easier said than done. How do I start a conversation with my customers if I don't know who they are?"

The best thing to do is to look at any information that you have about past customers. For those of you who are still trying to acquire your first customer, you're going to need to start with some assumptions about your customers. I know, I just went on a rant about the evils of assumptions, but my qualm with assumptions rests in making large decisions on the premise of assumptions. We're going to go back to your 6th grade science class and use the scientific method to either validate or invalidate our assumptions.

Whether our customer information is based off of previous experiences or assumptions, the next step is to divide these individuals into different customer segments using customer personas. From there, we're going to talk to people who fall into each of these segments to identify how accurate our assumptions are. I often like to use Reddit communities to ask exploratory questions about my target customers, followed by Facebook or LinkedIn groups to connect with people that fall under each segment, and then work towards finding a way to incentivize these individuals to hop on the phone with me for a 15-minute call. Convincing your potential customers to get on the phone can be difficult, but I often offer to enter them into a raffle for a $20 gift card, or try to appeal to their ego and explain that I "need their expertise on a subject". 

Before running your interviews, work to develop a series of open-ended questions that you will ask them during the call. Consider important questions such as "what are their biggest needs", and "what are their concerns with our solution". Look for trends in responses, and be aware of buzzwords that come up frequently. If you are struggling to generate a list of questions, check out Mike Fishbein's ultimate list of customer development questions.

Some of your customer segments may express a stronger need for your product than others, and some of your customer segments may not be interested in what you're selling. With that in mind, don't feel bad if you end up being wrong about one or two of your customer segments. Just as we learned in 6th grade, it doesn't matter whether your hypothesis is right or wrong. All that matters is that you come to the right conclusion. Take this feedback that you receive and use it to revise your customer personas and your sales strategy. 

The next step will be to use the insights that we gather from these customer interviews to inform our content creation strategy, but first focus on talking to your customers. For more tips on how to start a conversation with your customers, or what questions to ask them, email me at and I'll be happy to share my insights.

all the best,
pat ahern