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 the act of describing a customer or set of customers using demographics, psychographics, buying patterns, and other factors. In other words, it's identifying characteristics of people who are most likely to purchase your product or service and derive a lot of value from it.
Once you've defined these qualities of your target audience, you can segment your customer base into different customer profiles.
What Is a Customer Profile?
A customer profile is a detailed description of your target audience. It's similar to a buyer persona. However, while a buyer persona focuses on providing a fictionalized individual who acts as a representation of your customers, a customer profile is rooted in the data and factual information of your customer base. Everything you need to know about a group of customers is captured within this one description. For this reason, a customer profile comes first, and then you build a buyer persona 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.
The 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.
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Types of Customer Profiling
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.
For this reason, it's a good idea to profile customers based on specific types, or "segments." Segments can help you unearth trends in satisfaction, churn, and lifetime value that can in turn help you understand more about your ideal customer profile(s).
Think of profiling and segmentation in a few different ways:
Demographics are the concrete characteristics of a population and can be used to understand consumer behavior, albeit broadly. Demographics include the following traits (and more):
In B2B, you may also consider attributes such as company size, industry, and other attributes for the organization.
Demographics alone aren't enough to understand how, when, and why people make purchasing decisions, and that's where psychographics come in. These factors relate to the attitudes and psychological make-up of a population and may include:
Psychographics are helpful to understand the buying journey and even the customer journey after they've already made a purchase from you.
Whether it's for understanding the triggering events that lead them to purchase, crafting value-based messaging to attract prospects, empathizing with their situation, or developing new products that address existing needs, psychographics are extremely useful things to consider.
While psychographics relate to psychological attributes, behavioral segments take a look at how that's manifested into action. You may consider segmenting by:
Readiness to Buy
Loyalty or Account Age
Segments based on behavioral traits are some of the most valuable in customer support because it can help service teams find insights relating to customer interaction and how these trends manifest into recurring revenue and satisfaction rate. And once those things are measured, they can be improved.
Geographical factors are relevant any time location can affect how customers interact with a brand or receive their products. Here are popular ways to segment based on geography:
Gaining insights based on geography can help how your organization thinks through logistics, support implementation, and marketing.
How to Create a Customer Profile
Focus on the problem that your business is trying to resolve.
Review your customer journey map.
Dig into demographics.
Collect customer feedback.
Examine contextual details.
Understand your industry.
Analyze and iterate on customer personas.
1. Focus on the problem that 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. Review your customer journey map.
A customer journey map is a document that outlines every touchpoint a customer must pass through to achieve a goal with your company. While these take time to complete, they paint a detailed picture of who's buying your products and interacting with your brand.
But, you don't need to complete a customer journey map to create a customer profile. Simply thinking about the customer's journey will help you understand who you're trying to reach. And, by understanding their needs, challenges, and goals, you'll develop a stronger sense of what your customers want from your business.
You can even take this one step further by interviewing customers about each stop on your map. When creating HubSpot's customer journey map, its team asked users how they felt about specific points in the customer experience. Then, they charted these stories on the map so they could see how customer perception changed throughout the customer's journey. This gave them a good idea of what their customers liked and didn't like about their products.
3. 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)
4. Collect customer feedback.
When building your profile, it's easy to just rely on the data your team is given. But, it's hard to get to know your customers if you don't spend time with them. You need to meet your customers in person if you want to have a clear picture of what they're like. This makes customer interviews one of the best resources to use when building a customer profile.
Customer interviews allow your team to speak with users face-to-face. They can read their reactions to questions in real-time and foster human relationships with your customers. This helps them uncover valuable information that raw data simply can't show.
If you're unable to reach a specific group of customers, consider setting up a phone or video call. While it's not as engaging as an in-person interaction, it's still an effective way of reaching your target audience. And, if your customers are willing to schedule a call with you, you know they're loyal users and are worth the time investment. The more attention you pay to these customers, the more you'll have in the future.
5. 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?
6. Understand your industry.
One major contextual detail you should consider is where your brand falls in comparison to others in its industry. You should know how your customers perceive your brand and which companies you're competing with for their attention. This should give a good idea for the type of customers you want to attract and retain.
Understanding your industry also helps you define brand identity. If you're going to stand out, you need to find a way to differentiate your product and services. But, you also don't want to advertise changes that your customers will react negatively to. If you know the marketing strategies that your customers already respond to, you can mirror your competitor's successful techniques for introducing and educating customers about a new product or feature.
7. 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.
8. Analyze and iterate 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.
Customer Profile Examples
If you're not sure where to get started, take a look at these examples we've gathered below.
This customer profile uses a scoring system to determine if a prospect is a right for the business or not. It assesses the prospect on five different criteria and gives them a score for each ranging from zero to two. If the total score meets a preset benchmark, the company will reach to this customer with a sales pitch.
Each customer type is then broken down by demographics, core values, and preferred communication channels. It also includes a short summary describing how the marketing team should advertise to these individuals. With this information readily available, the Urban Cake bakery's marketing team can work alongside customer service to turnout effective campaigns that resonate with each segment of its customer base.
3. Basic Information
This customer profile cuts right to the point. It lists out all of the fundamental information we need to know about this customer type. This includes background data, demographics, and behavioral identifiers.
This is a great format to use if you're looking to build out a basic customer profile. While the information is surface-level, it's enough to give you an accurate description of your target audience.
4. Buyer Persona
As previously mentioned, the buyer persona usually comes after you have some idea of your customer profile. Nonetheless, many buyer persona builders can get you thinking critically about your ideal customer by asking valuable qualitative questions. Use HubSpot's Make My Persona tool as a starting point for mapping and profiling your customers.
Now that you've seen a few examples of customer profiles, it's time to get started on yours. Check out the next section for the customer profile template we created.
Customer Profile Templates
We've created customer profile templates you can use to walk you through these steps. You can download it here.
Once you've completed that exercise, you can then use these free customer journey map templates to take your customer profile to the next level. The more detailed your profile, the more value you can extract from it, making your marketing, sales, and service experiences more effective and valuable for your customers.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jan 9, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated June 09 2021