We get it.
Starting any small business is hard work from the get-go. There’s a heap of things on your plate right now, all demanding your time and attention.
So much so that it may feel as if everything has to happen right now. Whether that’s sorting a workspace, defining your service (or product offering), setting up accountancy and banking services, hiring support, getting the website up and running, not forgetting learning how to manage your new work/life balance.
The to-do list never ends.
And yet there is one thing most businesses forget to do and it’s the one thing that should be at the top of any action plan.
And that’s to really understand your customers, prospective customers, and competitor customers.
If you want anyone to buy anything from you, you first better know what they are looking for.
1. Who are your customers?
A good first step is to get to know who your customers are.
We might say ‘People who currently buy my products or services”. Of course we’d be right but that won’t help us understand them. Are we talking about people who buy from us regularly, or just now and again, or just the once? We could say we have three potentially very different audiences right there. Regular customers we could call Loyal Customers, those buying now and again we could call Occasional Customers.
And those who’ve bought from us just the once we could call Trial Customers, after all they may never buy again from us.
So already we have three customer groups just from those who have paid us for our product or service.
What about that cold call you had yesterday asking about your business, or that friend who you are meaning to talk to about what you can do for them? At the moment these are opportunities but have yet to convert, so, they can be termed Potential Customers. What about all those customers who are buying a similar product or service to yours, but from elsewhere? They are buying what you deliver but from your competitors, so, let’s call this group Competitor Customers.
Already we have 5 customer groups, there are many more and plenty of sub-groups within these 5 but broadly speaking this is how you need to start looking at your customer base.
2. How can understanding my different audiences actually help my business?
If you’re a baker then it may just be easier to say to ALL customers that you are a baker, you bake types x, y and z loaves and pastries, you are open at these hours and you are different to other bakers because of a,b, and c.
It would definitely be easier.
But it wouldn’t be the best way to talk to customers. If you could understand the difference between your Loyal Customers and Occasional Customers, you may then choose to change how you talk with each of them. Occasional Customers are occasional for a reason. What is that reason? Do they buy less bread than Loyal Customers or do they just buy less bread from you? Are they shopping around because your range doesn’t meet their needs or because they prefer the way another baker slices their loaves?
There are hundreds of possible reasons why customers may choose to buy from you or from a competitor business; locality, convenience, pricing, environment, value, range, service, product features, service benefits, clarity of message, even the way you talk to them, in person, online and in print. You need to understand what reasons drive customers to buy the way they do.
Only when you start asking why a customer behaves the way they do can you start to truly understand why they buy from you, might buy from you or won’t buy from you. .
And only then can you start to understand how you need to speak with them in ways they want to hear and will respond to.
3. What next?
Of course, a research specialist can help here. Whether that’s talking with a lot of customers or just a few.
But there are some quick wins to be gained just engaging with your existing customers and talking with them about what they really want and need. And if you don’t have customers, talk to prospective customers, be honest and open and find out what they’re looking for.
At that point it may be an idea to engage with a specialist researcher. What you’ll get is someone who is able to scale the research to reach more customers and prospects, and who will be skilled at shaping the conversations with customers and prospects to deliver findings that can lead to better commercial outcomes for you and your business.