Let me Introduce Myself. I’m the Customer.

Have you ever tried to sell a freezer to an Eskimo?

What about life insurance to a five-year-old? Roast beef to a vegetarian? An umbrella to a friend living in the Sahara? Flea spray to a woman with no pets? A parachute to the captain of a deep sea fishing vessel?

To successfully negotiate these sales would be a nearly impossible effort. Why? Because they all have one thing in common. In each situation, the merchant would be trying to sell something the prospective buyer doesn’t want or need. She’d be marketing her product to the wrong people. Eskimos don’t need freezers – and what would a sea captain do with a parachute? Jump off the nearest island?

It would be foolhardy to attempt these sales. In essence, it would be as if the merchant had forgotten one of the most important rules of marketing: knowing the customer.

Knowing the customer means understanding who your customers are and what it takes to satisfy them. Not everyone has the same wants or needs. If you’re going to have any success selling your goods or plowing your trade, you’re going to have to find out what makes your customers tick.

You can get to know your customers in four easy steps:

STEP ONE: Meet the Customer

Anyone selling anything – whether it be goods or services – has a ‘natural’ customer base. There’s a certain group of people who are much more likely to purchase your wares or services than others. Some customer bases are relatively large. Gas stations market to everyone because anyone who has a car or rents a car buys gasoline. On the other hand, a scuba tank distributor targets only a select group of people: scuba divers or wanna be scuba divers.

Who should you target?

There are several ways of identifying your unique customer base. Written surveys and focus groups can help in that regard, but essentially, you can begin narrowing down the options by asking the following questions:

  • Do my customers tend to be within a certain age range?
  • Are they generally male? Female? Both?
  • Are they typically married or single? Both? Do they have children?
  • Where do they live? Do they reside in rural or urban areas?
  • Are they employed in the business world or do they work at home?
  • What is their economic background? Do they have a lot of disposable income?

These questions can at least get you started in the process of discovering what kind of person your typical customer is.

STEP TWO: Discover the Customer’s Demand

Everyone has wants and needs. So do your customers. The concept of supply and demand is the foundation of successful business. But not everyone has the same needs. Fishermen and scuba divers both spend a lot of time near the water, but a fisherman has little need for an oxygen regulator and a scuba diver would look pretty silly trying to cast a fishing line 100 feet below the ocean’s surface.

Before you can attempt to meet demand, you have to discover what the unique demands of your customers are. But you’re already on the road to discovery: you know basic facts about your customers; demographics. Now you just have to get inside their heads. That takes time, but again, you can begin the process by asking some very general questions.

  • What are some tools that they need to do their jobs every day?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What do they need to enjoy those hobbies?
  • What do they like to spend their money on?
  • How do they spend their time?
  • What would they need to improve their home life?
  • What about their kids (if any)?
  • How do they spend their money and time?
  • Is there anything they can imagine that they want or need that’s not on the market right now?

STEP THREE: Market Accordingly

In order to sell products or services you have to market, but you need to make sure you’re marketing to the right people. Sounds easy, right? It’s not as simple as you might think. Far too many budding entrepreneurs or seasoned companies with a new product or service focus their campaigns in areas that completely miss their target customers.

If you’re selling a new over-the-counter arthritis medication, it’s probably not a good idea to limit your campaign to e-mails and advertisements on theater screens, since these are not among the top venues for the elderly. Direct mailings or personal visits to pharmacies and community centers might be a better strategy. On the other hand, tech-savvy young people may respond well to an e-mail promoting a new MP3 player.

The moral of the story: know where your customers spend their time. What type of advertising or promotion gets their attention? The last thing you want to do is bore them – or even worse – visually overload them so that you scare them away.

STEP FOUR: Provide What They’re Looking For

Many companies skip over the first three steps to get to this step. The mistake is understandable. This is the step where the sale takes place and the money is made. It’s where the merchant/business is finally rewarded for all their time and labor.

But it can also be the step at which the merchant realizes, with a sickening pit in his stomach, that no one wants to buy his products. It’s important to remember that business is a give-and-take relationship. Customers aren’t going to be lining up to fork over their cash unless they’re getting something for their money – again, something they want or need. Without going through steps one through three, you may find yourself advertising catnip to apartment dwellers who aren’t allowed to have pets.