Understanding your target is audience is everything.
A business idea only becomes viable if someone is willing to pay for the product or service.
Without understanding what people want, it's impossible to cater to their needs. You’re shooting in the dark and will most likely miss. Even what seems like a great idea can fall flat if it’s solving a problem that simply doesn’t exist.
Companies that sell products or services business to business (B2B) have an added level of customer understanding to consider. The business itself. That said, it’s all too easy to overly focus on the company and neglect the individual. The business isn’t real and can’t make decisions or sign purchase orders. People make these things happen.
It's also important to remember there a number of different decision makers, influencers and gatekeepers involved in a purchasing decision. It’s essential to think about what makes these individuals tick, what motivates them and what are their challenges.
Before we look at how you go about understanding your customer better, let’s think of a world where products and services are developed in vacuums. Businesses are inwardly focused, content is created with no thought to its audience, sales and marketing budget is ploughed into campaigns that have been developed on instinct rather than insight. Products are deemed of value based on the consensus of the senior management team.
It might sound foolish but I’m certain it happens more than you think. This approach is leaving a great deal to luck. Value propositions developed on instinct, without any insight or understanding of customer needs are rarely successful.
Content created on a hunch of what customers are interested in is the starting point for many businesses but this approach has significant limitations. Developing content that people want to spend time with is key.
Profiling the company
For the purposes of this article we’re focusing on B2B audiences. The starting point in this scenario is to define what type of company you believe would derive value from your product or service. Let’s look at some of the key criteria when defining your audience at the company level.
This is often the first port of call, as lots of businesses will have products or services that are aimed at certain sectors. Companies may also have a wealth of experience or a cohort of customers in a particular sector, which positions them nicely to help other similar businesses (assuming conflict isn't an issue).
To take things one step further, try to think about how your sector experience could take you into new areas. For example, your experience with an automotive brand could open doors with other affiliated areas: connected cars, driverless technology, navigation, original equipment manufacturers etc.
Your offer may suit companies of a certain size. Size can be defined by a range of metrics including turnover, number of employees and market capitalisation. If your product is for online audiences, companies like SimilarWeb and Alexa allow you to identify websites and mobile apps based on any digital criteria, including total monthly visits and traffic by country. All of which can help you narrow down your audience.
I’d advise not to be limited by geography but it may make sense to start your search for some quick wins closer to home. The companies you find on your doorstep might surprise you.
Is your typical customer privately owned or public? Are you looking for VC or Private Equity funded businesses? Similarities in ownership structures can help identify businesses with similar issues to what you have solved previously. You may also find companies that share investors with existing clients, which immediately gives you something to talk about.
Your product may integrate with certain technologies or your typical client may rely on a particular piece of software. LinkedIn Sales Navigator offers a lookup for technology. BuiltWith also allows you to analyse the technologies used by any website and build lists based on technology usage.
Having used the filters above you should be starting to get a pretty good idea of the types of businesses that will be interested in your offer. The next step is the think about the individual – this is where it starts getting really powerful.
Who are your actual buyers?
The first step is to define the people involved in your product’s typical buying journey. As a rule of thumb, I’d say there are 3-5 people involved in most B2B purchasing decisions. This would be a combination of both decision makers and influencers.
The next step is to start mapping the characteristics of these individuals. The aim is to paint a picture of each person, who they are, what motives them and what issues are they dealing with.
This section would include demographic information (age, sex, income, location etc.) and softer points like interests, marital status and number of children. It’s also worth giving some thought to personality type too as different personalities like to be communicated to in different ways. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the framework I’ve had most experience with but there are others. 16Personalities offers an interactive introduction to this area.
What is keeping your customers up at night? What’s stopping them do their job properly? Speak to your clients to get real examples of the issues they are dealing with.
There are also a multitude of online tools that can help to understand what customers are thinking. Google Trends is a good starting point; Ask The Public and Serpstat are also worth having a look at. These tools are predominately for keyword research but can present some interesting insights.
Think about what your ideal client is trying to achieve. What are their short, medium and long-term objectives? These can be related to success in their role and for the business as a whole or for them as individuals (or all three). Again, worth speaking to existing clients to get their perspective on this. Examples of business metrics could be to increase profits or reduces costs. Individual goals could be to receive recognition from colleagues, win a promotion or simply keep their job (think ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’).
The purpose of this exercise is to understand how your customers derive value. Only once you understand what is important to them can you start to articulate your value effectively.
The final task is to try and preempt some of the potential barriers to your offer. Examples of these include preexisting biases about similar products or services, cost control or procurement team. Other barriers could be linked to more common objections like lack of budget, purchasing cycles or incumbent suppliers. By identifying these barriers early and factoring them into your value proposition, you’re creating a smoother path to purchase.
Customer understanding is the starting point to so much. Insights derived from this understanding can make or break early business ideas and have a serious impact on growth.
Deeper knowledge about your audience can help you build better products and services, develop more compelling value propositions and create content people want to engage with.
Need help understanding your audience? Get in touch to see how The Growth Consultancy can bring you closer to your customers.