In order to properly market, sell to, and offer support to customers, you need to understand them and get to know them. And you can do that effectively by building a customer profile and developing a system for creating and auditing those profiles.
Customer profiling is defined as "a description of a customer, or set of customers, that includes demographic, geographic, and psychographic characteristics, as well as buying patterns, creditworthiness, and purchase history."
In other words, it's a set of characteristics that define the people who are most likely to purchase your product or service and derive a lot of value from it.
When building a business, developing a go-to-market strategy, or giving your sales team direction, it's important to have a clear description of this customer profile in place. Without it, you might end up spreading your product offering too thin and diluting your value across a large number of customers. This common misstep of trying to build something that solves 100% of the problems for 100% of the market is routinely referred to as "boiling the ocean." It usually happens when your customer profile is too broad, and you end up solving few problems for few people.
At AdStage, we like to think of the customer profile as guard rails for product managers while they develop a new product, marketers as they craft positioning strategies, and salespeople when they're searching for potential customers. Consider these roles and how they would differ, for example, when talking about a widget built for accountants vs a widget built for accountants working in a 200-employee company in the auto-industry that use Quickbooks.
A general widget built for accountants might offer a cursory set of features that either overlap with existing systems or operates independently of a companies core system of record. Building products that complement existing systems can lower your barrier to entry, show a deep understanding of the problem you're trying to solve, and ultimately add more value on a shorter timetable.
A refined customer profile can help your company build more impactful features, find and attract more people that are likely to buy your product, develop a stronger relationship with your customers, and put you on a better trajectory for market dominance.
How to Craft a Customer Profile
1. Start with the problem your business is trying to solve.
If you have a new business, focus on the problem you're trying to solve and identify the type of people who face this challenge. If you have an existing customer base, it's key to take a close look at your current users and their behavior.
The common denominator between these approaches is people. It doesn't matter if you only have a few customers or are well on your way to 10,000. You need to understand who your customers are (or will be), how they're using your product or service, and why they're using it.
2. Dig into demographics.
To define your customer profile, it's best to start with external demographics, then dive deeper into needs, and finally look at your company's offering.
Here are some external attributes you can use to define your customer profile:
What market does your product best serve? (e.g. Software for Healthcare)
What specific vertical do they operate in? (e.g. Patient Management System for Health Systems)
What is their annual revenue? (e.g. +$10mm)
How many employees do they have? (e.g. 150 employees or more)
Where are these companies located? (e.g. located in the United States)
3. Examine contextual details.
Once you've defined the external factors that describe your customer profile, it's critical to dig deeper into the contextual details. For example, if I was starting a SaaS company, I'd want to understand the following things about my customer:
How big is their team?
What are the biggest challenges they face?
What technology are they using?
What are their goals for the next three months?
What are their goals for the year?
How do they assess problems?
What does a perfect world look like for them?
What impact does the specific problem have on their team?
How are they trying to solve the problem today?
Based on these external factors and contextual details, you should now have a strong grasp on your potential customers' general make-up and goals. The final step to complete your customer profile is to look internally to see how you can help them based on all of this information. Below are some key questions to answer when completing your customer profile:
What value can you provide these customers? (Save them money or time, grow revenue, etc.)
Can you solve their key pain points?
What are the features that differentiate you from competitors or a homegrown process?
How does your solution fit into their short and long-term goals?
4. Build personas.
Remember that you're marketing to people with actual personalities, feeling, and needs. Once you've identified the attributes for your customer profile, the next step is to identify the individuals within the company that you want to reach. This will be helpful when trying to establish a relationship with the account, as well as understand who the decision makers and influencers are. Here are some key things to uncover about the people in your customer profile:
How will they use your product/service?
On what marketing channels can you reach them?
Key responsibilities for their role?
What role do they play in decision making process?
If you need a tool to help you build, visualize, and share your personas, try HubSpot's Make My Persona tool.
5. Analyzing and iterating on customer personas.
A customer profile is a key lever for growing your business. This definition will act as a guide when informing what products or features to build, what channels to use in a marketing campaign, and much more.
Without it, you run the risk of offering a product or service that doesn't meet any potential customers' specific needs. Or you end up marketing to prospects in a way that doesn't resonate with their understanding of the problem. Your goal should be to operate in lock step with your customer profile to inform everything from feature development all the way to go-to-market strategy.
As you're building your customer profile make sure to start by gathering the external factors, qualify the contextual details, and then develop a deep understanding how your business adds value to them.
Once your customer profile is in place, it's time to go out and find your new potential customers.
Customer Profile Template
We've created a customer profile template you can use to walk you through these steps. You can make a copy of it in Google Sheets and start using it here.
To learn more on this topic, read about how to use and analyze first party data next.
Originally published Dec 7, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated September 24 2019