Defining Your Ideal Customer Profile – Proven Strategies and Tactics

Conversion optimization begins by identifying your ideal customer profile and their specific needs. Here are a few ways to do that quickly and simply.

Work in sales and marketing long enough and you’ll discover that the fundamentals stay the same. The words used to describe them, however, are regularly being re-invented.

Any marketing strategy worth its salt, whether written in 1916 or 2016, begins by identifying the customer and the customer’s needs. And that starts by creating an ideal customer profile, which is often called a buyer persona.

Any marketing strategy worth its salt begins by identifying the customer and the customer’s needs. Share on X

All the buzz over the importance of buyer personas is nothing more than a revitalized rush to obey the first commandment of marketing: Know your customer.

That doesn’t take anything away from the importance of the work, but it may take a little of the pressure off.

Assuming your company already has a detailed marketing plan, maybe you’ve already defined your ideal customer.

And assuming you’ve been in business more than a year, maybe your key people already know who buys your goods or services.


Why an Ideal Customer Profile?

We hold discovery sessions with our new clients, and one of the first things we do is present this question for the stakeholders to consider: Who buys from us?

At one session, the staff of a large manufacturing firm covered the board with 18 different personas for their customers. By walking them through a process to determine the similarities and differences in those lists, we helped management see that their lists spelled out the customers’ reasons to buy, but not the personas of the customers.

When the smoke cleared, the client had cut the list of 18 down to two well-defined ideal customer profiles. That helped them focus their marketing efforts and quickly realize stronger results from their marketing spend.

At another discovery session, we worked with a seller of lifestyle gear. Since their headquarters were situated in a college town, it was easy to observe that college students were their primary customers.

Our research showed otherwise, though.

By analyzing sales records, we found that college students bought only 2% of the company’s products. 52% of the sales were to the mothers of those students.

That realization prompted our client to rethink and rewrite much of their brand story and marketing messaging. Consequently, they saw a huge boost in conversion rates.

You may think these stories are extravagant. After all, how could a company miss the buyer persona mark that far?

It’s easy.

Here’s a fun and informative exercise: Get those who know most about your customer base together (perhaps using Amazon’s principle of inviting only as many as you can feed with two pizzas) and ask them to describe your best customers. Take good notes. Then compare that customer insight gold to the descriptions in your strategic marketing plan.

Get those who know most about your customer base together and ask them to describe your best customers. Share on X

You may be surprised. Developing your ideal customer profile is often overlooked, but it should be central to your marketing.

Read more case studies in our book, “Stop Marketing and Start Selling.”

The Basic Tools for Determining Who Your Customers Really Are

You’ll want to look at your customer base from a number of different angles. Here are some ways to do that quickly and simply.

Create a survey

Your top priority here is question design. The information will only be as good as the questions you ask. Tools don’t need to be complicated. Try Survey Monkey or Google Forms.

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Tips for customer profile surveys:

  • Design each question with a specific learning goal. You’re looking for behaviors and preferences that will help identify customer types.
  • Focus on multiple choice questions. They help keep the survey short and make analysis of the results easier.
  • Review the questions you’ve written before you launch the survey. Make sure each will help you learn relevant and actionable information pertaining to the customer’s goals.
  • Distribute the surveys via your customer email list and on your social media channels. Use paid channels if you wish, but properly segmented and written emails should draw sufficient responses. How many responses do you need to be statistically significant? Use this calculator to find out: survey size tool.
  • Use social media postings to ask in more than one way. Test to discover the messaging that works best with your audience.

Conduct customer interviews

At the end of your survey form, collect contact information from those who choose to volunteer for follow-up. Simply let them know you would appreciate their participation and offer an incentive for their help.

You may find that you have plenty of volunteers and need look no further for participants. Otherwise, you can distribute requests through your email list and social media channels.

Tips for the customer profile interviews:

  • Once you’ve tallied survey results, you will find there are gaps in the information. You’ll think of questions you wish you would’ve asked. Those now become questions for your one-on-one personal interviews.
  • Schedule interviews in advance. Remind your customers about the survey, describe the incentive you offered, and explain that you want to interview them to discover ways you can be of more value to those you serve.
  • Begin the interview by putting customers at ease. Tell them they are the experts, and you are the student. Be genuine in your desire to learn from them, and they will open up with observations and suggestions that will astound you.

If you want help designing questions or conducting the survey, just let us know. Our job is to help you grow conversions and magnify your ROI. Email us or call our Portland, Oregon, headquarters: 503-488-5935.

Leverage customer service feedback

Nobody in your company is more in touch with who your customers are and what they think than the people manning your customer service and incoming order desks.

Amazingly, though, these frontline staff members are typically not invited to join the customer profile development team, and they’re never called upon to help with content ideas.

Go figure.

To plumb the depths of this internal gold mine, set up interviews with those who have been with you the longest AND with those who are still in their first year of employment. The old-timers will know the patterns, but the newcomers will still be seeing from fresh eyes. They will catch trends the others might miss.

Typical questions to ask the customer service team:

  • Walk me through a typical day for you. What happens?
  • What are the most common questions you hear?
  • What are the most common complaints you hear?
  • What are the main categories for the requests you typically get?
  • What do people say about our website? Do they find it easy to use? Do you find the website easy to navigate?
  • What are the biggest roadblocks people find to buying from us online?
  • How do people generally finish this sentence:
    I wish you guys would _______.

Don’t conduct a customer service team interview one time and then forget about it, though. Make sitting down with the front line a quarterly habit. Bring in lunch. Let them know how valuable they are to your company.

At The Good, we call that “opening the customer service feedback loop.” We encourage our clients to take the practice even further by setting up channels for the daily exchange of information between customer service and sales/marketing.

Identify customer goals and the obstacles to those goals

Certainly it’s good to prepare a persona that says things like “Mary Jogger is a running fanatic. She is 34 years old and lives in the suburbs. She works in the IT department of a Fortune 500 company and loves sushi. Mary is single and lives in a condo she owns.”

You don’t want to get hung up on demographics, though. You want to know Mary’s goals and the obstacles in her way to obtaining them.

Keep digging until you hit pay dirt: “Mary dreams of running a marathon someday, but her busy schedule cuts down on training time, and she isn’t sure that her favorite jogging shoes are ideal for distance running. Mary would like to find accountability partners, maybe join a running club, and she wants to know find out more about how one should eat when getting ready for a marathon.”

If the first commandment of marketing is “Know your customer,” then the second is “Serve your customer’s needs.”

The first commandment of marketing is “Know your customer,” the second is “Serve their needs.” Share on X

Add Jet Fuel to Your Ideal Customer Profile

By applying the principles of kaizen to your buyer personas, you’ll get better results. I’m talking about the concept of continuous and incremental improvement. Some call it “agile.” I just call it “smart marketing.”

Kaizen-style customer discovery is how Amazon became the largest online retailer on the planet. You can see it in their vision statement: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Amazon’s “customer centric” approach is aided by an unyielding attention to metrics and an unclouded vision of customer behavior. Amazon knows what customers like (and what customers don’t like) better than any company in the world.

Here’s the bottom line concerning ideal customer profiles: Stop telling your content creators to aim content at Mary Jogger, and begin focusing your messages on how your products can help Mary reach her goals and solve her problems.

Knowing what Mary wants and what’s preventing her from obtaining those things is way more important than knowing how old she is and where she lives. There are plenty of 34 year-old female joggers in this world… but there’s only one Mary.

Your task is to connect with her.

For help getting started, take advantage of our (free) Stuck Score™ assessment. It can help you quickly find out where the Stuck Points™ are along the customer journey for your website.

Take a tip from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon: “If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.”

Find out what stands between your company and digital excellence with a custom 5-Factors Scorecard™.

About the Author

Jon MacDonald

Jon MacDonald is founder and President of The Good, a digital experience optimization firm that has achieved results for some of the largest companies including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, Verizon, Intel and more. Jon regularly contributes to publications like Entrepreneur and Inc.