In times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that we open our door wide and make our customers welcome to do business with us
Waiting For The Windfall
I remember sitting at the window waiting for the postman to call. I must have been four or five at the time, and had recently cottoned on to the fact that some very interesting things arrived by mail. We had a relative in America who’d sent on a parcel of goodies and I was still buzzed by its unexpected arrival and the excitement of pulling off the wrapping and finding the presents inside.
Now I’d taken to watching at the window for the postman and hoping against hope that he’d bring more gifts. But this morning and the mornings before, he’d brought nothing more interesting than some plain envelopes. He didn’t even seem to have parcels for our neighbours. So I’d watched him with a sinking heart as he did his usual round and wondered if tomorrow he might bring something for me instead.
Some weeks had passed before I realised that the unexpected gifts had been a once-off treat that was unlikely to be repeated anytime soon, and I reluctantly gave up my post by the door. But I still found my heart quickening as I heard the arrival of the post, although it subsided just as quickly when I heard no knock, only the light thud of letters in the hallway.
It wasn’t until I was quite a bit older that I learned that a letter from me might prompt a letter from someone else in return and that bounty from out of the blue was something I couldn’t count on. By then, I’d taken to subscribing to cereal-box and comic book competitions, so was able to wait for the postman with some confidence when I thought a package for me was due. Even so, I usually overestimated my chances of winning a prize for some riddle or puzzle and found myself disappointed when my postal-order or toy didn’t arrive in the mail.
At The Window Once Again
You’ll see where all of this is headed, of course. As business-owners, we often find ourselves sitting at the window waiting for our customers to come. We’re not sure who they are or where they’re going to come from but we’re hoping against hope that they’re out there somewhere and headed our way.
We go to the front door and shout to the world at large that we’re open and ready for business. We place our ads and send out our brochures, confident that our offer will prove irresistible. And then we go sit by the window. And wait.
Isn’t it odd how slowly time passes when you’re waiting for something to happen? As a child, I found myself checking the clock, sure that it had been tampered with as I watched the minute hand crawl its way agonisingly around the dial. Then I invented some games to help pass the time. Maybe if I held my breath for thirty seconds, the postman would call. Then sixty seconds, then a minute and a half. Maybe if I ran to the gate and then back again, he would arrive. Or I would retrace my steps from that first morning in the hope that I could somehow will him to return with a package in his mailbag. None of it worked.
Now I’m not about to suggest that business-owners run to the gate and back in order to influence the customer (or at least, not whilst anyone’s looking) but we’ve probably all found ourselves at one time or another resorting to superstitious gestures in the hope that they’ll bring us good luck. You don’t think so? How about that ‘lucky ad’ you keep placing even when you know it doesn’t always come up with the goods? And that brochure you sent out with bated breath for fear you’ll somehow jinx it. And still it hasn’t worked.
And Call His Lovers Down
You’ll have heard people say that when you build a business for everyone, you build it for nobody. And so most of us narrow things down a bit and decide that our offer is for business-travellers or families or whatever. And then go to the door, shout out our offer and return to our place by the window. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
So how can we make certain it will work? We’ve got to go further, a lot further. Calling out hopefully to the faceless crowd is not a strategy that will increase our chances of hitting the target with the certainty that we need in our business. We need to narrow it down even more. We need to sharpen our focus to a needlepoint and home in on one person.
Yes, you’ve read right, that’s one person. Now this seems counter-intuitive. How can we build a business if we’re only talking to one person? It doesn’t seem to make sense. But right at the heart of our audience stands one person who was born to buy what we have to offer. In business terms, we’re made for one another. We can call them what we want: our ideal customer, our target bull’s-eye, or our brand soul mate. In some circles, you’ll hear them called ‘personas’ and described variously as ‘soccer moms’ or ‘easy singles’ or something along those lines. It doesn’t really matter what title we give them (although I suggest that you find a term of endearment rather than a clumsy acronym); what matters is that we’re able to picture them clearly and know them well.
In targeting our customer in this way, we’re plucking them out of the faceless crowd and placing them carefully at the very heart of our business. This works for a whole lot of reasons. First of all, it gives us focus. We grow much clearer in our own heads about our offer and why it makes sense to our customer. Now we’re talking to someone rather than at anyone. Our conversation grows more natural and more engaging because it’s now directed towards someone. Oddly enough, this unreal person, this figment of our imagination, makes our correspondence more real.
It also prompts us to examine our own offer more closely to see that it too fits the bill in terms of what our customer requires. If we’re clear about who we’re selling to, then we’re inclined to be much clearer about what we’re selling and why they’re likely to buy it from us. Many of the great breakthroughs in product development arise when we actually consider how one customer in particular (rather than our customers in general) makes use of what we have to offer.
Picturing our ideal customer also guides us towards places where we’re likely to find that customer and others like them. If we can describe our customer and their lifestyle, their habits and their likes and dislikes, then we can begin to determine where they’re likely to spend their time, who they spend it with, and what’s likely to influence them. This enables us to move away from optimistic broadcast to a much more focused exchange with our prospective customers.
Painting In The Wrinkles & The Grey
So how do we begin to picture our ideal customer? If we have existing customers, then we can study them more closely to get a sense of who is typical and who is ideal (the two may not be the same and we will need to move our ideal customer to the heart of our mix). If we’re a new business, then we’ll need to speculate a little more or look to customers who are buying something similar to what we have to offer. Either way, we’re looking for patterns of appearance, behaviour, lifestyle or preferences that will give us some clues as to where our audience stands. We already do this intuitively when we consider any crowd of people engaged in a particular activity. For example, each of us can picture the typical Harley-Davidson owner or the typical soccer fan. Now we need to apply the same thinking to our own customer mix.
We need to be very specific. I find my own clients are often reluctant to go into great detail; they’d prefer to keep their options open. This exercise only works when we describe our ideal customer in such detail that we would have no difficulty in identifying them if they were to walk unannounced into the room. We have to be able to pick them out from the crowd with certainty.
I go so far as to suggest that we give them a name, describe their family, pick the school they went to, and the coffee shop where they like to meet their friends. They have to become real for us so that we in turn are more realistic in how we attract their attention, make our offer and deliver it to them.
He Will Have His Way
This simple act of picturing our ideal customer will take us away from the window and lead us to make practical provisions for bringing them into our business. Instead of calling hopefully from the doorway, we’ll go confidently to those places where they are to be found and issue them a personal invitation (or one that feels very personal to them).
Time will no longer weigh heavily on our hands. Rather than wait hopefully, we can call our customers to us and make confident preparations for their arrival.