So many assumptions, so little time…
You think you know what a business is? What a product or service is? What a customer is?
Some of your assumptions as to what this things are are getting in the way of you being as successful as you would like.
Some Radical New Definitions
Let’s run through some quick definitions of the above - which you will have to take at face value at present.
Business: a ‘business’ is an activity or operation designed to fulfil a need. Per this definition, your body is a kind of business: it is equipped with various bits and pieces of equipment designed to take in the things that you need and to reject the things that could threaten your life. Anything which acts to fulfil a need has something to do with what we call ‘business’. You’ll learn much more about this as you go on. For now, think of a business as a provider.
Product or service: a product or service is that thing or action (or set of things or actions) which are designed to fit a particular need. Thus a bag of chips is a product because it fills the need for something to eat; a haircut is a service because it supplies the shorter hair that someone needs. The range of products and services is vast - and some of them will surprise you. A good way to think of products and services is as ‘need-fillers’.
Customer: a customer is usually defined along the lines of ‘a person who has needs, with a background or biography full of fascinating details, all of which can be known by outside entities like businesses’.
Though something like this has been used both to describe customers and to offer advice to businesses for as long as there have been businesses, it is actually incomplete.
What we have been accustomed to calling a ‘customer’ is actually a construction of vacuums.
What does that mean?
Our Understanding of Our Customers
If you think of your customers as people with well-rounded lives, content in their jobs, living comfortably with ideal family lives, your business will not generate much energy, no matter what it is that you provide.
Any entity that we call a ‘customer’ only becomes interesting when something is taken away from him or her.
If a customer has a need, a gap, a requirement, is unhappy in a job, lives uncomfortably and has a far from ideal family life, he or she will generate energy for a business somewhere, somehow. Businesses are providers - in the absence of need, there is nothing to provide and businesses will struggle.
Conversely, in the presence of need, businesses can thrive. Customers have attention on their vacuums and are pulled along by them into your business, either in the short or long term.
Start by asking what it is that your business provides. Define that as clearly as you can. Then word that as a need.
For example, let’s take a business that provides editing services for authors who want to publish their work. How are that business's services defined more precisely? Probably something like ‘I provide bespoke, one-to-one support from the idea stages of story-telling, to organisation and character-creation, to plot development and writing style, and including step-by-step assistance in proofreading, editing and formatting a work, actually publishing that work and then helping with its marketing internationally’.
You could probably add: ‘My attention to you and your work and what you are striving to communicate through it is personal, authentic and caring. I can be your mentor, your supporter and your aide, working with you to ensure that what you have in your mind makes it into the minds of others.’
Having made that clear, you should now re-write it in terms of a need - something like this:
‘You may be struggling to get your ideas out into written form; perhaps you need to organise your life so that you can write, or perhaps you do not know the technology involved in creating convincing characters or powerful plots. Even when you have something written, you probably need assistance in proofreading, editing and formatting a work, as well as actually publishing that work. To achieve the success that you dream of, you will also need to reach potential readers all over the world’.
‘But your efforts to communicate can be foiled at every turn without personal, authentic and caring assistance. You need a writing mentor, a supporter and an aide, working with you to ensure that what you have in your mind makes it into the minds of others.’
But that’s just the first step. The next steps are even more interesting.
Outlining Your Ideal Customers
If you have done the above steps well enough, it may have occurred to you that you probably have more than one type of customer. In the example above, there are at least six distinct customer types that leap out of that detailed description of the editing business:
1. Those customers who are struggling to get their ideas out into written form.
2. Those customers who need to organise their lives so that they can write.
3. Those who do not know the technology involved in creating convincing characters or powerful plots.
4. Those who need assistance in proofreading, editing and formatting a work.
5. Those who want to publish a work.
6. Published authors who need help to reach potential readers all over the world.
In each case, a valuable aspect of what this business offers - the personal, authentic and caring assistance of a writing mentor, working with customers to ensure that what they have in their minds makes it into the minds of others - applies.
A business owner can then set about designing an ideal customer for each of the above six categories.
But how exactly do you ‘design’ an ideal customer?
Designing an Ideal Customer
The first thing that it is important to say here is that you are doing this in the privacy and quietness of your own space, without reference to the ‘real world’. At this stage, don’t look outward at who your customers may have been in the past or even at who you think they should be in the future: just sit somewhere and create your own ideal customer.
Let’s use the first category from the examples above: a potential customer of an editing firm who is struggling to get ideas out into written form. Don’t focus on listing where they live or how old they might be - all of which data is available these days through the wonders of Google and social media - but rather zoom in on the need.
Describe the customer in terms of vulnerabilities, losses, threats, weaknesses. This potential customer is suffering: his or her imagination is swimming with ideas but they are going nowhere, leaving a sense of apathy or exposure to the pressures of the outside world. Previous efforts may have failed, time and time again, creating a track of upsets and losses; there may be some kind of time limit involved for the individual, during which they must write something or go bust. Perhaps this potential customer has had previous ideas crushed or made fun of, leaving a feeling of weakness and hopelessness.
Now an interesting thing happens: instead of being a faceless figure composed only of demographic data, you have developed a character, an almost real composite of needs and vulnerabilities which seems more human and more authentic.
That’s your ideal customer - a living person with a genuine need for what you have to offer.
Don’t make your imagined customers too comfortable. Their needs for your products and services must be awful, deep, overpowering. The stronger you make those needs, the more you feel drawn into the vortex of emptiness you’ve opened up. And if you feel drawn, so will others.
Giving Your Creation a Name
How do you move from imagined customers to real, motivated people?
What we are used to calling 'motivation' is the phenomenon arising from something being missing. The missing item, mood or state is what pulls people - including artificially-constructed people - into doing anything. If people seem to lack motivation, they lack vacuums; if they are super-motivated, they have powerful vacuums.
Should you now jump in and try to solve the discontentment of the unhappy customer? No! Not at first anyway.
Name your invented person. Let’s call the person we created above ‘Elinor’ and loosely define her in terms of traditional demographics - perhaps she lives in London and is in her late thirties.
Now find a stock photo which ‘looks like’ Elinor.
Put this avatar up on your website with a description of what she is going through.
Here’s the magic:
Creating successful fictional customers means creating or finding vacuums which will pull in real customer attention.
If you have done all of the above thoroughly, you will have devised someone who your real customers will recognise. To the extent that they see themselves in the avatar you have created, you will draw them closer to your business, just like a protagonist in a novel draws the reader in.
Real customers identify with the needs, losses, threats, weaknesses and upsets of created customers.
A successful customer template is the key to everything else that follows.
Next: Seven Types of Customer Template and Which Ones are Most Useful