On puppies, Jupiter, and knowing your customer

Let’s take a look at your customer. No matter what line of business you’re in, hand-knit six-toed socks for six-toed pets or software to record your dreams and auto-tweet them scene by scene, when you first start out, you don’t know much about her, except one thing.

SHE IS BUSY.

She has no time for you. None. She is browsing cat pictures and posting them on Pinterest, or maybe she is dressing up as a cat and posting selfies on Instagram. What you have to realize is, before you get her money, you have to get her time. Guess what’s inside her head. Go on, I’ll give you three whole seconds. See it? No? Let’s take a close look together.

Oh! In her head there are boxes.

You have a puzzled look on your face. It’s understandable. Boxes? What boxes? Boxes for brands. She has already decided a long time ago what kind of car she likes, and where she buys her socks, and whom she pays to fold her origami flowers to hang them above her door. You have to fight for one of those boxes. Let’s say, you are building a rocket that will catapult unwanted trash to Jupiter. Why Jupiter of all places? Oh, because it’s romantic and it will turn trash into large intergalactic puppies. This is your pitch. Great. Now, before you can even hope to get into that box in her head—let’s call it TRASH DISPOSAL—you have to know that it’s already been occupied by a company called Bantering Hedgehogs. Their trucks, painted-on with smiling hedgehogs, roam the city and pick up your customer’s trash.

What can you do to get into that box?

1.    Know your customer. 

Yes, she is busy, but she also has a problem, the same one that you have. It’s why you’ve started your business in the first place. Your job is to get to know her, to understand her really well, to know what brand of coffee she drinks and what slippers she wears. Become super intimate with your customer. There are tons of customer research templates and persona datasheets and typical customer profiles that you can use.

2.    Understand your customer’s needs.

Using the example above, you know that your customer’s current problem is getting rid of trash that her flock of parrots generate. Let’s say she has 300 parrots in her apartment, and they tear up socks and newspaper every day. How does she get rid of it? Where does she hang out? Where is she looking for information? How does she educate herself? Who does she talk to? Whom does she trust? If you were to bump into her on the street, would you start shouting that you have this awesome rocket service that could turn her trash into intergalactic puppies? No, of course not. She’d look at you strange or maybe even call the police. You have to say, “Hello”, and, “How are you doing”, and, “Isn’t the weather nice”, and, “You look worried”, and, “Is there something I can help you with?” You have to become friends first (and nobody becomes friends from one brief encounter), only then can you begin building trust, and only after you have built trust, can you casually mention, “Oh, by the way, I have this business I’m doing, we’re turning trash into puppies that float around Jupiter.” Now imagine her reaction. Huge eyes. “Wow!” She would say. “This is so cool! Can you tell me more?” You got her hooked.

3.    Find your best customer.

Congratulations. Now you know who your customer is and what her needs are. But is she your fan? The tip for you: find your best customers, people who buy the most, and then ask them what they like about you. Get to know them, so you’ll have no problem finding more customers like them.

4.    Ask your customers, “Why?

This is a very powerful question, the one we used to ask our parents to no end when were toddlers. It’s one of the most powerful tools you can use to your advantage. Learn to be a toddler and ask this annoying question again and again. “Why do you need X?” “Why do you do Y?” “Why is this important to you?”

5.    Listen to your customer.

After you ask questions, your job is to listen and to understand. It’s critical to invest time upfront into listening to your customer. Listen to her talk about her parrots for hours, how this one is crimson red, and this other one is indigo blue, and yet this other one has two heads. Isn’t it adorable? Like a patient friend, silently hold your customer’s hand, until she feels safe enough to tell you about her real problem: “Oh, they tear up 50 pairs of my stockings every day!” The time you’ve spend listening will pay off in the long run and will make your life easier later.

6.    Mystery shop your customers.

Become their customer so you can understand how they are serving their own customers and help them grow their business.

To sum it up, here is your to-do list:

  • Build 2-3 personas of your best customers. Here is a template you can use.
  • Understand what drives your customers by knowing why they do things.  Keep at it asking "Why" till you get to the source...
  • Analyze their online behavior (what they search for, pages they visit most, what they choose when you do a/b web page testing, etc).
  • Listen to your customer. Get them to trust you and tell you not only what they like, but what challenges they face, get them to feel comfortable asking you for help.
  • Collect responses and catalogue them, adjust personas accordingly.
  • Mystery shop your customers. Walk in the shoes of your customer's customers. Check out StellaService for inspiration.