How well do you really know your customers?

Customer listing to marketing messages

When it comes to your customers, can you really say you understand everything about them – from what defines them as individuals from the general populous, to what makes them tick when choosing what to buy? This process of clearly outlining and understanding customers is one that many businesses strangely overlook, and in doing so increasing the chance of missing out on potential sales and wasting money on ineffective marketing.

There is a lot to consider when attempting to define and better understand your audience. We’ve taken a look at some of the areas that should be looked at below.

Identifying the individual

Personal Identification data


The first step to a deeper understanding of your customers is grasping who they are, as an individual. This usually involves understanding the general demographic your products are best targeted towards and then creating personas for these “typical” customers. Here’s an example of how this process can help you better define your customer.

A business selling modern quirky office furniture might focus all their time and energy into targeting businesses with offices – sounds like a logical strategy right? Well in actual fact, it’s not. Different offices are likely to have different finishes, and quirky furnishing is unlikely to appeal to businesses that require a formal setting, such as legal firms or accountants. Therefore, spending time and money on campaigns which blindly target all businesses with office space, is likely to go wasted. However, going through the process of identifying their customers they might realise that they’re products are better targeted at businesses that align better with their offering. For example it may be that marketing agencies are a closer fit, and better still they’ll now have a greater insight into the key decision maker within the business they should also be targeting.

Understanding these points will allow them to communicate and engage with their target audience in a more personal manner which is likely to appeal to them far more.

Now what if the company mentioned above offers traditional office furniture alongside its range of quirky designs? This is where customer segmentation comes into play. If you offer a range of products, then there’s a good chance that certain items are likely to appeal to certain audiences. You can follow the steps mentioned above to establish the exact customer profiles that are relevant to each of your product categories.

Tailoring your communications to each specific audience might sound like hard work but it will in turn ensure your marketing is far more targeted and as a result more effective. Establishing all the above can improve your marketing in a number of ways, from the manner in which you segment products on your website, to your messaging, to the marketing channels you choose to communicate your offering.

Many companies do not like to focus in on target markets because they don’t want to alienate any potential customers. However, this process is not trying to eliminate anyone. You are merely choosing who best to spend your marketing budget on communicating with that will yield the greatest returns. Try and appeal to everyone and you are unlikely to strongly appeal to anyone!

So now you know who your target customer is, you need to understand how and why they want to buy your product/service from you, this is where you need to develop an insight into their buying journey.

Understanding the buying process from the buyers’ perspective

Keyboard with Buy button

Identifying who your customers are is only part of the job, you need to go beyond this and establish why they’d want to purchase your product. Since there’s no real science to this it’s all a matter of developing a better understanding of your customers. You can start by getting to grips with their pain points and key purchasing drivers. These 2 elements go hand in hand as they allow you to look into why the customer would want your product or service and what would make them buy it. This will play a large part in your marketing as your messaging should highlight these points and show how your product or service can help them overcome those pain points, better than the competition.

In order for the information you gather to be effective you also need to understand your customers’ buying journey. While some products, such as grocery items are commonly bought on a whim, other products, such as the aforementioned office furniture, are likely to be bought after a degree of thought and consideration – there is a clear decision-making process in play. Understanding how your customers go through the buying journey will dictate how, when, and at what frequency you communicate with them.

For example, the above business might start by using direct mail to send out a catalogue to help highlight everything they have on offer. They may then follow this up with the use of emails or social media to highlight aspects that’ll appeal to their customers’ purchasing drivers and give them the edge over their competitors. Finally, they may provide limited offers if their customers need a little nudge to ease them through the sales funnel. Once a sale has been made they can offer an aftercare service as part of a guarantee on the quality of the products. They can also keep regular contact through emails so when their customers do wish to refurb their office space, the business in question will remain front of mind (as long as their experience has been a positive one).

Keeping the customer lifecycle in your mind when thinking about how you’ll target your customer is a great way of ensuring you approach them in the right manner. The vast majority of customer lifecycles are made of a number of stages which can be broadly split in the following:

  1. Reach out to your customers and raise awareness of the product

  2. Nurture the relationship and deliver insight into why they should purchase from you

  3. Convert them into customers

  4. Continue nurturing the relationship post sale to encourage repeat custom

  5. Aim to provide a product and level of service so great they’ll refer you to others.

As we can see from the customer lifecycle, the process certainly doesn’t stop when a customer has made a purchase. There is still work to be done to ensure customers not only come back in future, but also recommend you to other people they know.

Retaining your customers

Performance Feedback Mechansims


The post-sale process is just as, if not more, important than the pre-sale process. It’s generally agreed that retaining an existing customer is far cheaper than attaining a new one. This is primarily because a new lead has to be nurtured through the entire sales funnel before they are converted, whereas an existing customer already knows your brand and the product, meaning you only need to give them good reason to keep coming back.

This can be achieved in a number of ways, whether that be via an incentive for existing customers (such as discounted renewal fees), or through loyalty schemes that reward them after a number of purchases. Ultimately, it’s all about developing a degree of loyalty which alongside the incentives you provide, needs to be backed up with a high level of service and a quality product that meets, or better yet, exceeds their expectations.

The benefits of retaining customers and keeping them happy actually stretch beyond the sales they themselves will directly bring you. There’s a very good chance that they will recommend you to other people they know, and as it’s often been said, a referral from a friend or family is far more likely to be trusted and followed up on as it’s seen to come from a “trusted” source.

In some rare cases, the customers that refer you staunchly enough might even be considered to be brand advocates. Granted it might sound a little far-fetched, but it’s far more common than you’d realise, and chances are you’ve been a brand advocate without even realising it at some point. Think about a time when you’ve backed a brand, whether it’s been a restaurant, or a car manufacturer, or a tradesperson and refutably recommended it to someone else. Think about what drew you to support it so strongly and focus on delivering a similar feeling to your customers.

Unwanted customers

Unwanted customers cause pain

What’s that, how can you not want a customer? Well on the rare occasion you won’t, as sometimes the wrong customer can do more damage to a brand than the odd sale is worth. These “cancerous customers” usually take form in one of a number of ways:

  1. They’re difficult from the off-set, refuse to compromise and then complain post purchase (quite often price driven purchasers).

  2. They become difficult to handle during the sales process and once more voice their opinions post purchase as opposed to seeking a solution

  3. And finally, they have a bad experience and rather than settling the issue choose to air their opinions to everyone else.

There’s a good chance that at some point you will come across a cancerous customer and knowing how you’ll handle the situation is crucial to ensure as little damage as possible is done to your brand.

The added complexity surrounding cancerous customers has been amplified in recent years as a result of social media. Every customer not only has a platform to air their opinion, but in many cases, they also have an endless audience who could potentially witness their displeasure and provide them with much need attention. In these situations, we always recommend confronting the issue head on and looking to resolve it as speedily as possible and as privately as possible.

Final words

Your customers are what will essentially fuel the growth of your business and as a result should be understood as thoroughly as possible. Remember, if you don’t know what messages your customers are likely to be receptive to, or worse yet don’t really know who your customers are at all, then how can you expect your marketing to be targeted at them effectively? So, improve the returns you generate from your marketing and grow your business by homing in on who your customers are and what they want from you.

If you’re still struggling with marketing, you should consider a marketing consultant to audit your current operations and create a marketing strategy that’s tailored to your business and target objectives.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.
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