Who do you serve?
If you're in business today there is no doubt you'll be told to create a customer avatar. At some point in your journey, this will be necessary. All the best coaches and advisers say so. The customer avatar is the person you serve. She is the person you started the business to serve.
In one of my previous companies, after we were acquired, I attended a meeting called by the marketing director. Everyone was there. The conference room was so packed some people had to stand in the back. The purpose of the meeting was for the marketing director to share insight about our customer avatar.
In this meeting, we listened to the description of our "ideal customer" - almost all the way back to her 3rd grade report card. The avatar was a young woman around 34, with a career, and several pets. Honestly, I don't remember all the details, but here were plenty. What I do remember is watching the power point presentation depicting this white woman, smiling as she shopped, and went to the park and did any number of things, and shaking my head.
I just kept thinking, "But, this avatar is so limiting. If this is our only customer, we're in trouble."
You Know That's Not How It Works
Of course, we didn't limit ourselves to that woman. She was created to get us comfortable with how the company was going to grow a community of fans, eager to buy and share and support us. And we had to start somewhere, right? Starting with a detailed, well-thought-out description of our ideal customer got us into the station wagon and ready for our journey.
There we were, suitcases all packed, kids kicking the back of the car seat in frustration, windows rolled down because Mom didn't want to turn on the air conditioning until we left the driveway, all ready to go. Yet, somehow, the station wagon never left the driveway.
Kind of like the year of we, my ex-husband and three kids, took our summer vacation without leaving our driveway. Our car broke down and couldn't be fixed in any reasonable amount of time. So we unpacked, and stayed home, and were none the worse for it.
In the case of the company I described above, never leaving the driveway was a bad thing. It meant we struggled to get our avatar to do what we wanted her to do!
And therein lies the first reason why I hate ideal customer profiles. You cannot get your avatar to behave the way you think she should. Mostly because she's not a real person.
An ideal customer profile locks you in a box
If I create an ideal customer profile, and I have, numerous times, I lock myself into a box. I may even close the top of the box and limit my view of the world outside.
If I'm locked in the box, only able to see what's going on through the little tiny slit where the box flaps don't meet, I'm handicapped. Aren't I?
I see a glimpse of sunshine or rain. I see shadows go by. I might be attractive to the family dog who will come over and have a sniff, sticking his wet nose into that little opening, and then sneeze - showering me with "dog germs" as Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons would say.
How does that help me? Yes, as I am 'stuck' in the box I am hoping for a big, strong person to come by, maybe I want a man or a woman, someone with an interest in exploring what's in the box, but more than that, it needs to be someone who can and will open the flabs and offer me a hand to climb out!
Couldn't it also be a young person? Maybe a young person who knows to get an adult to help? Or who rips those flaps off without a worry, and smiles as she watches me scramble out.
Couldn't it be a small group of people who pass by and hear my hoarse cries for help, as I've been shouting for so long I've lost my voice? Couldn't they help me, collectively? Out of curiosity, if nothing else?
Yes, to all
All of those people are opportunities. If my business is helping people out of boxes (and all businesses are such, are they not? are not all businesses created to provide a solution to a problem, getting people out of a box?), then I want to talk to all of those people. Even the dog. Because, after all, the dog has a master or mistress, doesn't she?
When I select only one of those personalities, I limit myself in my business vision. I auto-select a small group of people I "might" work with because they "might" be interested in my solution to their problem.
The operative word there is "might" - in case you are just skimming. Might this happen. Might that happen. Might this person or that person be my answer? My avatar says she's a prospect, but everything in that profile is content I made up. It's all a fiction. It's something I dreamed up because so many experts told me I had to do so. Yes, I did so based on knowledge gained either by asking or observing. But, it's still me guessing.
Even if she is my "ideal customer" - according the profile, how many of her are out there? How many more who are similar but not the same, are out there? One? Six? Seventeen?
Of course Not
And now we circle back. Back to why we create avatars and why understanding your ideal customer/client is so valuable.
Jessica Osborn gives us this advice,
Firstly, you’re never going to sell to ALL of the people in your target market.
Be realistic for a minute and think about how many customers your business actually needs to be successful or reach your next revenue target.
It’s not that many, right?
So you’re not trying to win every single person in your target market.
They won’t all be the right fit for you either.
And a customer who doesn’t fit is often way more hassle than what it’s worth.
Read the last line again. That customer/client who is not a fit, but ticks a few of our boxes, might be more hassle than she's worth. She might take up more time. She might be that one client who fails to do her work and then blames you.
Jessica goes on to say,
Put yourself in their shoes.
Understand what they know, what they don’t know. Their opinions and perceptions.
Understand their frustrations, and how you can help them.
Understand what sort of person they are, how they talk and think.
Understand how they like to buy...
What I like about this advice, besides the advice itself, is the word "they" and "their." Not her. Not him. They. Your customers. Your clients. Your plural opportunities. To me, this makes sense. If I try to put this into an avatar outline, I fail. Because "she" ends up with too many arms and too many legs. Making it plural allows me to create a community of people to approach.
John Jantsch , a friend from my days as an early blogger, also talks about our ideal client. He says,
Once you dig deep and profile the common characteristics you should also start asking yourself some questions about these folks.
- What brings them joy?
- What are they worried about?
- What challenges do they face?
- What do they hope to gain from us?
- What goals are they striving to attain?
- What experience thrills them?
- Where do they get their information?
- Who do they trust most?
But, he uses the plural, also. He say "folks." He says "they." He knows we have to sell to more than one person.
Am I nit-picking?
noun: a concern with insignificant details, esp with the intention of finding fault as defined in Dictionary.com.
Maybe. What do you think? Should we focus on the avatar of that one person we think we're selling to? Knowing she/he/it is only representative of a larger group?
Or is it possible to think of our prospect list as an established community we want to serve and invite into our new neighborhood, where there will be many voices, many personalities, many like minded folks who have questions about what we do - lots of questions?
In that community, the questions will be varied. The people will be in different places of development. The group, as a whole, will be interested in what we're selling, providing, but each person will have a different reason for buying. In fact, as we know, some folks will want the "full" package, others just the newsletter or group option. Some folks will need time to ruminate - to consider their options. They are no less inclined to buy, they merely have outside constrictions that may delay their purchase.
I get the whole customer/client avatar. I do it. Even now, I do it. I read the Jessica Osborn's and John Jantsch's of the world, and I share their advice because it's good advice. It makes sense.
I learn from other coaches and brand marketers and bloggers and authors every day. I absorb as much as I can. I work with the Kae Wagner's of the world, and introduce folks like Tracey Dobbins, to keep myself sharp as a public speaker and someone who can create small talk. And I understand how valuable it is to understand your ideal customer.
I just think we should talk about our community. To me, it's about a group, not a person.
- Who are they?
- Why are they in the community?
- What led them to join and why do they stay?
- Why do they leave?
- What questions are they asking?
- Where are they, relative to community ideals? (where do they live?)
- Who are they hanging out with?
- What do they want to accomplish this year?
- Why? Why? why?
These are just a few questions to ask. For me, the key is understanding that your ideal customer/client, that avatar you're encouraged to make over and over again, is just a sample of who you can sell your products/services to.
She's at the front of the crowd, when you go to unlock your door for this month's latest sale. But she's never there alone.