No matter what kind of business you are in, you rely on selling your product or service to a specific customer…a real person. Even if you sell to businesses, there is a person at that business making the decision to buy from you or not. Your core customers are unique individuals; they are more than statistics, and the more you know about their lifestyle, personality, ambitions and concerns, the better you'll be able to anticipate their needs and be agile enough to grow with them. Yes, they need to be in your core market but we also need to picture them as a person across the table that you are having a conversation with.
Customers are key, but as Bob Bloom explains in his book The Inside Advantage, not all customers are created equal. Some customers (Customer A) will suck your resources, demand major changes in your products or services, and may only represent a small portion of your revenue, while other customers (Customer B) may be a delight to serve, require little support, rave about your product or service, and buy multiple products resulting in more revenue for less effort and stress for you. In this scenario, who wouldn't want to find more of Customer B while letting Customer A self-select to one of your competitors?
In order to grow your business, you must identify and define your Core Customer, understand their needs, identify the unique solution that only you can offer, and use this knowledge to shape your Brand Promise. Your Brand Promise is your unique and persuasive strategy for closing deals with your Core Customer. These clients are your most valuable customers and your growth strategies should be focused on getting more of them in your customer base.
One of the first steps in developing a winning Brand Promise is defining your Core Customer:
6 Steps to Define Your Core Customer
Bloom outlines six steps for defining your Core Customer. These steps can be completed by establishing a Think Rhythm with your executive team or smaller group of core strategic thinkers. It might also be important to pull in some brains from your customer support team or other front line employees who have a feel for the personality of your customers - what they like and don't like, who's happy and who's not.
Step 1. Start with a list of your current customers. Also, brainstorm customers you want that are currently with your competition. You can write these names on a white board or tear sheet.
Step 2. Of the customers and potential customers you've listed, who is most valuable to you? Put a star next to customers who are perceived as most valuable.
Step 3. Seek advice from colleagues and those outside your business on who would be valuable clients to add to your list.
Step 4. Highlight the customers that you want to keep and potential customers you want to add to your client list. Who are your highest priority customers?
Step 5. Look at just these high priority customers. Define these individuals using two or three specific words or phrases. What are their specific, individual traits or characteristics? Why are they high priority for you? What makes them a good fit for your company's culture or specific product/service offering? Does the team like working with these customers? Why? At this point, just list as much information about the customer as you can, then pull it together in a definition that's about 20 words long. Your definition won't be perfect, but you should encourage your team to be innovative in thinking about this step.
Step 6. Once you have a grasp on who your Core Customer is, shift your discussion to the their unique needs. Come up with a list of 10-15 things that the Core Customer you've identified desires. Challenge yourselves to live in your customer's shoes and try to see things from their perspective. Collect some insights from those on your team who interact with customers most often and even from the customers themselves about what they want.
Establishing a Think Rhythm is key to a successful Core Customer discussion. It's impossible to work through all six steps in one meeting. You may come up with a definition you love, and then share it with a few employees only to find that you are missing a key piece. The Think Rhythm lets you test ideas and come back to the discussion with new insights. The definition of your core customer should capture the essence of the person, as even business to business sales is done human to human
In the end, you should come away with a statement that clearly illustrates your Core Customer. You should garner an understanding of the specific customers you must retain and attract in order to grow your business. Armed with this understanding, you can now identify the needs of your Core Customer that you are uniquely capable of delivering. And now you are ready to begin thinking about your Brand Promise: your uncommon offering that differentiates you from your competition in the eyes of your Core Customer.
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Editor's Note: This post was originally published on October 23, 2013 and has been updated.