Being able to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and understand how they think is one of the most important parts of running a successful online business. Why is this important? When you think about it, you only know how to solve your customers’ problems if you know what they are. And to maximize those sales, you need to know precisely how your customers think so you can better meet their individual needs and communicate with them. In this article, we’re going to explore some of the primary methods for getting to know your customers a little better.
Create Your Customer Avatar
The first thing we recommend is that you make a list of avatars (or ideal customers) for your product or service (as some products can have more than one market.) For example, our target markets here at Million Dollar Marketer consist of (1) People wanting to work at home but they don’t know what to do to get started; (2) People who have just started working at home and need help putting it all together, and (3) The new at-home entrepreneur who has just started earning income with her business. So we have 3 different markets that could use and benefit from our courses and services.
As you create your avatars, really think about each customer and the benefit they’ll receive from your product or service. As you explore the ideal customer further, dig deep into their mindset and try to really understand how they feel. Put yourself in their shoes and really feel their pain points.
Next Analyze Your Product and How It Fits with Each Avatar You Created
Then make a list of the products or services you offer. If you’re an existing business and you’ve been offering your services for some time, this will be easy. If you’re just getting started, you’ll need to brainstorm a bit.
For each of your product or service, write down a list of its featuresunder each of those avatars. Beside each feature, write the benefit that it provides for that particularavatar. (The difference here between features and benefits is that a feature is some quality or part of the product itself. The benefit, on the other hand, is the subsequent effect it has on the purchaser’s life.)
So what you’ll end up with is a list of your ideal customers (avatars) with a list of all the features and benefits (ways that THEY) will be able to use your product or service.
There’s a whole lot that goes into researching your customer, and this is just the beginning.
Use Existing Customer Data
If you’re already running your business, take a look at existing customer data. Your existing customer data offers a valuable shortcut to understanding who your customers are. You may be planning to expand or better target your services, but you can still get some clues by looking at existing customers.
You can look at what products or services are selling the best among your existing customers? Are there any differences at different times during the year or business cycle? How have buying patterns changed over time? Consider which customers buy the most from you and those from whom you’ve received positive feedback and referrals.
Start from Scratch
If you’re a new business that doesn’t currently have a base of existing customers, you can learn some things by analyzing the general market. Start with associations in your industry. See if you can find any demographic data they’ve done. Look for trade reports, census data, published survey results, white papers, and so on.
You can also learn valuable information by researching your competition. Who do they target and serve? Are there segments of the market that they underserve? One way to do this easily is to research your competition by following them on social media, reading their blog, watching their YouTube videos, and so on. Look at the comments, reviews and other feedback from customers. You can get an idea of who your competitors serve and also how their customers feel about their service.
One More Way to Get Ideas is to Use Your Intuition. Ask Yourself:
- Who do you envision to be your ideal customer?
- Who would you like to be your ideal customer?
- What demographic groups are most likely to buy from you, and which ones aren’t likely to buy?
- What challenges, problems, questions, or pain will your product or service help them solve?
- How do they feel about the products they buy?
Interact with Your Market
Next, you have to make a plan for how you’re going to interact with your market. The internet makes it easier than ever to get in touch with your potential customers and there are many easy and free ways to do this.
Email is a relatively old method for reaching customers. Long before there were Facebook and Twitter, there was email. And although new means of communication are continually appearing, email is still the old standby. People still pay more attention to email messages from companies they patronize than anywhere else online.
There are several ways to connect with your customers through email. The standard is to ask for their email at the point of sale with a lead magnet. This is something of value they can get in exchange for giving you their email address.
In addition to special offers, it’s good to send a customer newsletter periodically. This is a way of keeping in touch and it then doesn’t seem abrupt if you contact them out of the blue asking them to do a survey. It’s also a way to boost post-purchase sales through the exclusive deals you offer.
As part of the content that you send your customers through email, you can also gather feedback by asking questions or providing a way for them to reach you.
Use Social Media
By simply having an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or other social media sites, you can keep in steady contact with your customers. However, it’s even better to get further involved with social media, joining forums, groups, and discussions.
While you’re using social media, you can also conduct research on your customers. You can look at their profiles, see what’s trending, see what other businesses they like or follow, see what content is most popular, and so on. Look especially for gaps where needs aren’t being met and what other similar solutions are being offered.
Find Forums and Other Places Your Customers are Located
Consider where your avatars would “hang out” on the internet. Would they join groups? Are there certain organizations or community forums? Do they speak freely in forums or in private groups? Look in places like these and search Google for some of the exact phrases that you know they use. See if you can find a few places they hang out for each avatar.
Can you subscribe or join the forums they’re in? Can you watch the videos or You Tube channels they watch? Anything you can do to greater understand them and their pain points will help you be able to market to them better.
As you get to know them better, are you seeing some key phrases they may use, particularly in response to dealing with their problem? See if you can identify real world phrases and words they use. By doing these exercises, you are better able to give them the products or services they need to solve this problem.
Surveys and Interviews
Using online tools like Survey Monkey and Survey Gizmo, it’s easy to create surveys. The part that requires more attention and care on your part is writing your questions. How your questions are written will determine how useful the answers are for your purposes.There are two types of questions: Closed and open questions. Closed questions ask for specific information. These are yes or no questions, rating scales, or multiple choice questions.
They give the respondent options for their answer. Open questions are those that ask for opinions or that allow much more flexibility in their answers.Closed questions give you much more specific information that’s easy to quantify and analyze. Your survey should consist mostly of closed questions.
Open questions are good for supplemental information, but this information is much harder to analyze. However, some tools, like Survey Monkey, have features that analyze complex text.
Rating scales are good because they make it easy for the respondent to answer and easy for you to analyze their answers. When using rating scales, offer one consistent scale for all questions. If each question has its own scale, this requires the respondent to think and re-orient themselves. A consistent rating scale makes it easier.
Odd-numbered rating scales, such as 1 to 5, are the best to use because they have a clear middle number. Five is particularly good because it basically has a rating for great/strongly agree, good/agree, so-so or no opinion, bad/disagree and very bad/strongly disagree.
Giving Your Survey a Logical Order
Think about the ordering of your questions in the same way you would a story. Like any kind of content, it should feel like it has a beginning, middle and end. Start with an introduction and several easy questions to get the respondent into survey-taking mode. Start with broader questions and get progressively more specific and narrower. It’s best to put the most important questions near the top since the respondent may stop midway through. Open questions that require a longer response are best to put at or near the end.
Offer an Incentive
Surveys take time to fill out so offer some kind of incentive to your respondents. This doesn’t have to cost you anything. It could be a free trial, free exclusive content, membership, a discount, or a chance to win something.
Simple and Direct
You need to ask the right questions to get the right answers. Keep your questions straightforward and easy to answer. The shorter they are, the better. Each question should be written to elicit one key piece of information. Try to avoid questions that could be taken the wrong way or misunderstood.
Another thing you can do to avoid confusion is to make sure you don’t use any jargon, technical terms, or acronyms.
Interview Your Potential Customers
Surveys offer an excellent way to gather information about your target market. Open-ended questions give you a chance to gain their detailed thoughts and opinions. But the foremost way to gain this higher quality, deeper information from your customers is to conduct interviews.
Like your online survey, you should tell the interviewee what to expect, including the length of the interview. It should be no more than 30 minutes. It’s even better if you can make the interview shorter. The 15 to 20 minute range is ideal.
Figure out a way to record the interview. You can use an app, your phone, or another tool. If you interview someone over Skype, there are recording apps you can download, such as the free MP3 Skype Recorder. You’ll want to record so that you don’t miss anything and your data from the interview is accurate.
Instead of asking yes/no questions or offering multiple choice, ask questions such as:
- What are the biggest challenges you face in your life or work? [relative to your business focus]
- Why are those challenges a problem for you?
- How have those challenges affected your life or work?
- What do you do now to deal with those challenges?
- Why did you choose those solutions?
- How well do those solutions solve your problems?
These are probing questions that seek more details. Wherever appropriate, ask follow-up questions to get the interviewee to expand on their answers. You’ll want to avoid using a rigid script. Create a list of the most important questions and plenty of back-ups, but be spontaneous as well. Interviews can often go off-script. Just make sure that the improvised questions will lead to the information you need to know.Be open-minded and prepared for surprises. It’s really important that you don’t try to lead an interview to certain conclusions or impose your own ideas on it. Instead, you should try to see the world from your interviewee’s perspective.
The internet offers many easy and convenient ways to interact with your customers, but face-to-face interaction is still the most authentic. Take any opportunity possible to actually meet your customers offline at conferences, training events, local community events, trade shows, and so on.
For example, if you hold a booth at a trade show or conference, as part of the stand you can offer a survey on an iPad. The iPad makes it quick, easy, and hassle-free for the attendee to take your survey and also easy for you to analyze the results. You may offer some small gift item, freebie, or even a cup of coffee as a way to say “thanks” for taking the time.
These are just a handful of the methods you can understand your ideal customer. However, if you want to learn more about creating your ultimate customer avatar, researching your product idea, and researching your competition along with other research tips used by the pros prior to starting a new business, consider our Knowing Your Customer course which is a part of our Million Dollar Marketer program linked below.