There is a lot of information on defining your ideal customer, but most of it isn’t written for you. It’s written for software-as-a-service companies, or startups, or both. And while e-commerce can benefit from many of the same best-practices, some of the information written in those articles just doesn’t apply.
This article is written just for you, and it’s all about how to define, find, and attract your ideal e-commerce customer.
First, my definition of an ideal customer:
An ideal customer is someone who has a problem you are uniquely equipped to solve, who is willing, able and happy to pay for that solution, and who is delighted to have found you.
And they shouldn’t drive you nuts (nobody says this, but it’s important — ideal customers are not the ones who take up all of your customer service agents’ time, return more products than they buy, and complain about you on social media). Nobody needs that.
This is why I included the “delighted” clause; people who are delighted to find you genuinely appreciate what you have to offer. They’ll be more inclined to become loyal customers, make repeat purchases, and recommend you to their friends, which are vital elements to any growth strategy.
How do you find these ideal clients?
First, you need to admit a hard truth
Your product isn’t for everyone. I repeat: Your product, unless it is toilet paper, is not for everyone. This is usually the hardest hurdle for business owners to leap, because you want everyone to buy your product (naturally). You think everyone could use it!
But not everyone will want to use it, become addicted to using it, and talk their friends into using it too — that’s the customer you need.
Limiting your scope to an ideal customer isn’t a liability, it’s an opportunity.
Businesses that are able to become leaders in their niches do very, very well.
Then, you need to ask yourself (and your current best customers) some questions
I might begin a conversation about ideal customers with questions about basic demographics (gender, age, education, career, geographic location), role in the company or role in the family, needs, wants, fears, and favorite hobbies — but that’s just a warm-up.
What I really need to know to begin understanding a client’s ideal customer is this:
- The most important goals this person wants to accomplish (what is really important — in and outside of work?)
- What is at stake if this person fails to accomplish those goals?
- What drives them CRAZY on a regular basis (and I mean, pulling-their-hair-out nuts)
- What are the greatest benefits your ideal customer stands to gain from your product?
These questions lead us into the real meat of the issue: Ideal outcomes, worst fears, greatest pain points, and biggest benefits.
The ideal outcome is what the customer wants most from your product. If I’m buying a sweater, my ideal outcome would to be warm (but not too warm), and feel deliciously cozy — reserve me a place by the fire and bring me a cup of hot cocoa. If you try to sell me a sweater, I may or may not buy it. If you sell me that cozy place by the fire, I’ll buy it every time. You’ve spoken to a deeper desire.
Worst fears are incredibly valuable to know for marketing purposes — they always get a response. What is the worst thing that could happen if your customer doesn’t have your product? What do they stand to lose?
Greatest pain points are key to understanding how much your ideal client really needs your product (and how effective of a solution you’re actually offering — you can use this to develop products as well). The amount of pain is directly proportional to how much time/money/resources your ideal client will spend to fix it.
The benefits question not only tells you what people love about your product, but also gives you deeper insight into your customers’ ideal outcomes — especially the ideal outcomes they’re really achieving. These insights are golden for your marketing and content strategies.
How to get these answers
You’re going to have to do some intensive customer research. A good place to start is by identifying your current favorite customers (or a segment of customers that outperforms all of the others). These are the people you made your products for, who support your business loudly, and who you genuinely enjoy (because they genuinely enjoy you). They also have to be the ones willing to pay full price, unless your ideal customer is a bargain hunter (hey, that could be your demographic, in which case, run with it!).
Then, send them a survey with questions that get at those four essential truths, along with any other pertinent questions you’d like to ask, like how they found you, what they were looking for, what industry they work in (if applicable), and why they ultimately chose to buy from you. You might also want to ask if they have, or would, recommend you (Why? Why not?).
Use this as a launching point to begin fleshing out your ideal customer profile — a list of characteristics common to your ideal customers. Then, use that list to identify potential ideal customers and target them in your marketing.
A targeted Facebook ad, for example, should drive increased traffic to your site. Then you’ll want to observe your conversion rate to see if you are, in fact, hitting your target market accurately.
Shanelle Mullin, Content & Growth at Conversion XL offers a variation on my method for constructing an ideal customer profile.
Looking at your recent, happy customers can give you an idea of who your ideal customer is. There are two ways to go about this: customer surveys and customer interviews.
A lot goes into an ideal customer profile, so you want to use customer surveys to understand four key things:
- Who they are.
- The problem they came to you to solve.
- Their shopping process.
- Their buying process.
Note that the answers you’ll receive for questions related to the last two will be skewed by time. They won’t accurately remember the shopping or buying process months later. Only ask those types of questions if you have a large group of recent, happy customers.
Typically, you’ll want to ask 7–8 questions per survey. It’ll give you a good amount of data, but it won’t scare people away.
Make sure every question you ask is actionable. What will you add to your ideal customer profile based on the answer? If your answer is nothing, don’t ask the question.
Also, in this case, you’ll want to avoid yes/no or multiple choice questions. That way, you truly hear from the customer and go beyond quantitative analysis.
Aim to collect 200–250 responses total. If you go through fewer than that, you won’t be able to identify patterns and trends.
For more information on conducting a productive customer interview, check out her in-depth article on the subject.
Be careful of the customer you wish for
Having worked with dozens of marketing, growth-hacking, and conversion companies with their clients, I can attest to this truth: Sometimes, you think you’ve identified your ideal customer, and you change your site and SEO to attract them, and you end up attracting entirely the wrong audience.
I was working with a package tracking company once that was having this trouble. They wanted to rank for the keywords “package tracking,” and succeeded. The problem was, grandmothers who’d sent gifts through Amazon were trying to track their packages through them, when their actual product was an internal package tracking system that would ensure a package got from a corporate basement to its appointed desk, six floors above. The package tracking company wanted people searching for “package tracking” to find them — and that’s what they got.
To fix that problem, they had to adjust their messaging for clarification and refine their SEO strategy.
Refining your ideal client
If, after you’ve identified your ideal client and adjusted your marketing accordingly, website traffic is down, or conversions are the same or down, you may be missing something. The issue could be in your messaging, it could be that your marketing is slightly off-target, or it could be something entirely different — you can begin to form a picture using Google Analytics, but you won’t really know unless you ask.
You might want to try an exit survey — a pop-up survey that appears once someone clicks off your page — that asks what the user expected/hoped to find but didn’t. You might discover that your best efforts only succeeded in attracting Amazon Grannies!
Other perspectives on identifying ideal customers
With an e-commerce site, we are inclined to believe you can just turn it on and target everyone, and you’ll get rich. But whether you’re selling garden furniture or t-shirts, there’s always an ideal customer that you should be refining your website for.
If the company doesn’t know who this is, they need to do their homework.
They need to look at industry data, even as a starting point just to understand who is looking for their products. The next step is to go to Google Analytics and see who is actually visiting their website.
Hopefully, they should see some synergy. However, sometimes we think that our ideal customer is a particular gender or age, yet the visitors to our site (and those who are the most engaged) are outside of this target. This may mean you need to you need to speak to these people directly and figure out why they are interested in your site, and whether they have an intent to buy, and what you can do on your website to help them.
If they have no intent to buy and your website is clearly targeting the wrong audience, I would then look at the ideal customer profile you have articulated so far, and use that when choosing testers for UX or user testing. This will help you understand what your ideal customers are saying about your website and how best to target them.
This work is what a CRO can provide for you, but it is so much more important to go through the process yourself. Without an ideal customer profile and clear goals, CRO will just be a moving target with little return.
While Tiffany daSilva and I both look at existing customers as our foundation, she looks at all of the existing customers and asks how many of them are “ideal,” whereas I only look at the customers we can already identify as being “ideal.” That difference comes from my background in Lean methodology and customer success — but really, both roads will take you where you need to go: Researching your customers.
What happens when you ID your ideal customer?
As your ideal customers begin to come in, you’ll want track how they find you, who they are, what their lifetime value (LTV) is to your business, and which characteristics correlate with greater or lesser LTV. With advanced tracking in place, you’ll be able to see which customer segments are the most profitable, who are the loudest advocates, and which ones are so engaged with your brand that they become integral parts of your social media communities.
With this information, you can optimize your marketing strategies to catch the attention of even more specific types of customers.
But it all begins with defining your ideal client. Because once you have that clear definition, you’ll be able to find the most effective ways to reach them, and the most effective ways to position your products and brand to attract, retain, and delight them. It’s the key to your marketing strategy, conversion rates and growth.