biz ladies 09: understanding your customers

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sarai mitnick is a user experience specialist who has worked with both small clients and high-profile companies like google and youtube- and today she’s here to share a great idea for all of you biz ladies and biz guys: customer profiles. getting to know your clients, keep your client base organized and understanding their needs is crucial to any business, so today sarai is sharing her tips for creating customer profiles and taking advantage of some of the opportunities they create. it’s a great thing to start doing whether your business is brand-new or has been going for years. thanks to sarai for her advice!

CLICK HERE for sarai’s full post after the jump!

Profiles: A Practical Guide to Understanding Your Customers
by Sarai Mitnick

For small businesses, there are many challenges in really understanding your market and using that information to focus your business. Some basic questions you have might be:

Who are my current customers? What are their wants and needs?

Who are my target customers? How can I satisfy them?

How do my customers differ from one another, and how can I design my business – products, marketing, brand, advertising – to appeal to all of them?

How do I keep my business focused on real people, rather than going all over the map trying to appeal to everyone?

I’d like to introduce you to a really simple, practical tool for actually using market research to help answer these questions: customer profiles.

Now, if you’ve developed a business plan or are thinking about one, you’ve probably done at least a little market research. There are a lot of great resources out there for how to do market research on an indie budget. And if you have customers, you’ve probably got some good ideas about how to get feedback from them. But what do you do with that research? Do all those data points really help you focus your business on a day to day basis? Do you think about that data all the time?

Let’s talk about what a customer profile is. Profiles are concrete depictions of specific, fictional customers that are based on real customer data. Each of these fictional people represents a whole segment of your customers, or potential customers. You base them on real research, but give them lifelike details such as a photo, a story of their typical day, personal details, and quotes. They bring together market research and real customer needs. They’re fun to create, easy to use, and extremely valuable.

Profiles work well because they are concrete. Our brains are great at interpreting people and stories. Abstract data just doesn’t stick as well, and it’s harder to apply in decision making. Thinking about a specific, archetypal person is a much easier way to bring your research and insights into your decisions.

For example, let’s say you have a business selling your handmade camera bags. You have lots of information about potential customers: market size, demographics, etc. But imagine how much easier it would be to make decisions if you knew your target customers were Monica the style maven, Jillian the semi-pro photographer, and Jane the minimalist. You could use these concrete depictions of your customers to design every aspect of your business: product development, marketing, branding, advertising, you name it! Your business would be more focused and your brand more consistent.

Here’s how to create them. I think you’ll find it a fun process, and it really doesn’t take long.

Start with research. There are basically two types of research you can use. Primary research is any research you do yourself on your customers or potential customers. This can include things like surveys, interviews, customer-initiated feedback, stats from your website, or observations of people using your products. Make sure you solicit a wide range of people, not just the folks who email to say how much they love or hate your work! Secondary research is all the data that’s out there already. You can find research on the web, in newspapers, in trade magazines, and other sources. I highly recommend doing your own primary research in addition to any secondary research you have.

Cluster that information. Now divide all this data into different types of customers. A good starting point for dividing them up is thinking about their different goals and priorities. Because this is more about customers’ goals, attitudes, lifestyle, and behavior than pure demographics, you can see why your own primary research is so important. Try to just focus on the facts about each group that you’ve learned through research. Include any characteristics that are particularly important for your business. For example, since my small business, Colette Patterns, sells sewing patterns, my target customers’ level of sewing expertise was an important factor.

Prioritize your profiles. You may feel that some of your groups are more important than others. Or you may realize that a large, important group could be split up into multiple groups. If you have a very niche market, you may need only one or two profiles. A broad business could have many more. And don’t forget, users and customers are not always the same thing. You may have a business selling fancy ladies’ underwear, but one of your most important customer groups could be husbands/boyfriends who buy gifts! Create more profiles if you need to, split them up, get rid of some, or note which are the highest priority and which are secondary. Do what makes sense for your business goals.

Fully develop your profiles. This is the creative, fun part. Now that you know the key facts about each group, you want to turn each one into a real person. Give them a name, a specific age, gender, income, profession, hobbies, interests, goals, likes and dislikes. Give them personal details to really fill out the character. Just write a little story about who this person is, what their life is like, and how they spend their time. It’s very helpful to include a little photo as well. Include anything that will really make you feel like you know this person.

Use them! Get to know them and use them to make decisions. Ask yourself questions such as “Is this something Monica would want?” or “Is this advertising something Jane would respond to?” It may feel a little silly at first, but in time it will become second nature and you will always have your customers at your fingertips. Think about them when considering new products, building your brand, developing advertising, working on publicity.

Adapt them. Markets change, so be sure to update your profiles periodically. Create new profiles when trying to expand into new markets. And always continue to gather customer response to feed into them. Plan ahead to determine how often you will update your profiles.

Customer profiles are an invaluable tool for small businesses, and can help you whether you’re starting up, growing, or pursuing new directions. Best of all, you’ll find yourself really understanding and connecting to your customers the more you use and adapt them.

Sarai Mitnick is a User Experience specialist who has worked for both small clients and high-profile companies such as Google and YouTube. She is also an avid seamstress and blogger, and has just launched her own line of beautiful boutique women’s sewing patterns, Colette Patterns. She writes her personal craft blog at Sweet Sassafras.

portcitysally

hmm . . . I’m thinking “Teri and Ted the Travellers”, “Archie the Architect” and “Hilda the Hipster”. Fun, and actually very helpful.

Laura Bucci

Important stuff! I’ve read about this before and it sounds like a really good idea but I just haven’t done it yet. Nevertheless, thanks!

kelly

Question about primary research… got any tips for doing this before you have a company? If you don’t already have a customer base to survey and learn from, where do you start when you’re on a budget?

Sarai

Kelly, that’s a great question! The first step is to decide who your target customers are, in a pretty broad sense. Then talk to those people. Find the places they hang out online and learn from them there, start conversations, see what they say. If you want quantitative info, you can still do surveys on a budget.

Good luck to everyone!

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