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Customer Definition: Customers Are People Too

by: Ben Larson
One of the biggest and most common mistakes that I see early entrepreneurs make is a failure to properly define their customer. Why is customer definition so important? Put simply, someone has to buy your product. You need to know who that person is and why they're going to buy whatever it is you are selling. As Adeo Ressi (CEO of the Founder Institute) is often heard saying, "customers are not inanimate objects"; you cannot sell to Fortune 500 companies, elementary schools, large retailers, SMBs, and so on. You sell to people. Note that "people" does not mean anyone with a smartphone, all millennials, or professionals that use LinkedIn. You need to start with a definitively targeted customer so that you know how to serve their needs, speak their language, and help them solve a problem.

There is a ton of literature available for developing customer archetypes and how to use them, but I want to begin with a simpler approach. Empathy. Try to understand who you are selling to, and what their needs and constraints are. You will end up building a better offering through a stronger product roadmap, and you'll have more success when selling your company to various stakeholders.

Below are some guiding questions that will put you in the right mindset to be empathetic to your ideal customer.

1. How old is your customer?

Knowing the average age of your target market allows you to connect and speak to your customers. From the verbiage you use, to the social media channels you leverage, to the time of day you communicate, to the related services and applications you associate with, it is dependent on the age of your target customer.

2. What is the gender of your customer?

Similar to the question above, gender may play a large role in how you communicate with your customers. Some products are very gender-specific, while others are less so. Furthermore, this may significantly impact the design and the look and feel of your brand.

3. What is your customer's job title or employment status?

Job title or employment status open up a whole "can of worms" when it comes to understanding your customer. What are they trying to accomplish day-to-day? Who are they trying to impress? Are they in the office or on the road? All these factors can help you understand the role your product or service plays in their life.

4. When will your customer be using your service?

This is one of the more important questions to ask yourself when developing your offering. Whether it's the device they'll be using, their planned length of engagement, or the mood they're in, much will be influenced by the time of day or the activities in which your product or service is engaged.

5. What is your customer's name? Where do they live? Where are they from? What kind of music do they listen to? Do they have kids? Are they a kid? etc.

Okay, this is going a little deep into actually establishing a customer archetype, but if you can answer these questions, why not get more in touch with who you are building your product for?

The whole point of all this is that you are building your company for your customer. Again, your customer is a person, not an inanimate object. This will be very important in all aspects of your company, whether it's the design and messaging of your landing page, building your pitch deck for investors, or telling a convincing story to potential team members. Please post your comments and questions below and I'd be happy to discuss this further.

Just remember, you want to know who your customer is.

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