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How to Identify Your Ideal Customers
by Rieva Lesonsky
December 7, 2023
Man working behind counter at cafe

When you own a small business, reaching as many customers as possible is important. But you’re not a big-box mega-store, so you can’t cast the wide net they can. Instead, the key is to identify your potential ideal customers and target as many of them as you can afford.

Your first step is to figure out who your ideal customers are. The more you know about them, the easier they’ll be to find and market to.

Identifying Ideal Customers

Who do you think your target market is? The best way to identify your ideal customers is to create a profile—a buyer or customer persona—a fictional representation of them. The key is to be as specific as possible. If you’re already in business, you may already have some information about them. So start with your current customer base; they will offer the most insights.

Your Best Customers

There are numerous ways you can learn more about your customers.  What characteristics do they share? You can survey them in person or online. Here are several ideas:

  • Conduct customer surveys by mail, comment cards, your website, or social platforms.
  • Hold customer focus groups with your best customers.
    • This works especially well if you’re a local business. Invite some of your best customers to a meeting or for lunch. Since they know you, most will be happy to help. You can offer them a small incentive, such as a discount, as a thank you.
  • See what customers say about your business on social media.
  • Monitor online ratings and reviews.
  • Talk to customers one-on-one.

B2C Business Characteristics to Identify:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Number of children, if any
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Income
  • Occupation
  • Location
  • Life stage
  • Psychographics (attitudes, hobbies, beliefs, interests)
  • The publications/blogs/podcasts they turn to for information
  • Social media usage
  • Pain points
  • Own or rent a home

B2B Business Characteristics to Identify:

  • Industry
  • Job title
  • Responsibilities
  • Location/number of locations
  • Sales/revenues
  • Years in business
  • Number of employees
  • Marketing budget
  • The publications/blogs/podcasts they turn to for information
  • Social media usage
  • Pain points/biggest challenges
  • Member of any industry associations

B2B businesses may already have this type of data. See what information your customer relationship management software (CRM), loyalty program software, and customer purchase history reveal.

You can also ask your customers questions about their relationship with your business, such as:

  • How do they typically learn about products and services like yours?  
  • Why did they decide to buy from you the first time?
  • Why do they keep doing business with you?
  • What do they get from doing business with you that your competitors don’t offer?

After surveying your customers categorize the characteristics they share. See what patterns emerge.

Creating Customer Personas

Once you collect all your customer persona data, create your profiles. Here’s an example of a customer persona for a bicycle retailer:

Mike is a 55-year-old professional with a household income of $150,000. He’s married with adult children and lives in the suburbs. Fitness is a priority for him, and he spends $5,000-$10,000 annually on high-end bicycles and accessories. He wants functional, high-quality products that convey status.

Depending on the type of business you own, what you sell and how many customers you have, you may have to create multiple customer personas. Don’t let this overwhelm you; start with your top customers and only create a few personas. You can create more later.

Here’s another example of a different customer persona a bicycle retailer may have:

Ashley is a single, 28-year-old urban professional who earns $90,000. She spends around $5,000 a year on bikes and accessories. Biking on the weekends is one of her favorite ways to relax. She’s very active on social media and likes to be the first to try new bike gear.

Negative Customer Personas

HubSpot says building a negative buyer persona (the people you don’t want as customers) can be helpful. You’ll save time and money by not marketing to people, such as:

  • Professionals too advanced for your product or service
  • Students who are only engaging with your content for research purposes
  • Potential customers who are just too expensive to acquire because of a low average sale price or high churn rate

Finding more Ideal Customers

Using your customer persona/s, design your marketing and sales strategies to attract your ideal customers by:

  • Advertising in the media where they spend the most time (online, blogs, websites, print, TV, radio)
  • Creating marketing and advertising messages that address their pain points
  • Using social media to share content relevant to their concerns
  • Including the words and phrases they use in your sales and marketing copy
  • Communicating in their preferred format (text, visual, video, long-form, short-form)

Focus your sales efforts on your ideal customers by:

  • Purchasing lists of prospects who fit your ideal customer profile (this is getting to be a more difficult way to convert customers)
  • Targeting people with your ideal customer profile on social media
  • Getting referrals from your ideal customers
  • Selling your product or service via their preferred sales channels

Identifying your ideal customers will help you weed out less-than-ideal customers—those that are harder to sell to, don’t spend as much money and aren’t as profitable. By focusing on your ideal customers and discovering the best way to communicate with them, your business will grow faster with less effort, becoming more successful and profitable.

This can sound a little overwhelming. If you need help, ask your SCORE mentor to help you define and develop your ideal customer profiles.

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
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1165 Herndon Parkway, Suite 100
Herndon, VA 20170

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