Knowing your customer goes beyond “now”

Last week, I did an Insight Intensive with Nancy Sherr–a gorgeous and dynamic coach guiding women through transitions and towards a zestful life. I read the copy on her site, I watched her introductory video. I could tell she knew her customer. And suddenly, I did too.

I could imagine all the women who had put so much energy into being the perfect wives to their influential and powerful husbands only to have their 20 year marriages end in divorce. I could see all the women who had put their whole hearts into being perfect mothers only to wonder what to do with their whole hearts when the kids left the nest empty. I could picture all the women who had set aside every shred of their femininity to compete in a masculine world only to feel cold & distant upon retirement or layoff.

Nancy’s work naturally picks up where these transitions leave off. It’s the clearest opportunity and the one that most easily lends itself to an offer. But that’s only one opportunity for her to serve her best clients. She could imagine only serving them at this juncture in time. She could see her clients as static.

Or she could choose to imagine the lives ahead of them. She could choose to hold a vision for her clients as they pursue their zestful lives. And she could choose to create products that serve that growing & evolving vision.

Much of the problem with the way most businesses have chosen to see their ideal client is that it stops at “now.”

You can have one distinct ideal client profile. But that profile doesn’t have to only exist at the point of pain, frustration, or need. No, that profile–that person–has a history. She has unique experiences that have shaped who she is at this moment. She also has a future. She has hopes, dreams, and the day-by-day reality of moving through time.

Innovative businesses hold a vision for their customers. Innovative businesses use their unique insight into their customers’ day-to-day lives to see what tomorrow will look like and create the solutions that meet them at tomorrow and beyond.

“What business a company is in depends, in large part, not on existing customers but who tomorrow’s customers will—and should—be.”
— Michael Schrage, Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?

That is not to say that who your customer is changes. But it is to say that your customers are changing. You have the opportunity to continue to serve them as they progress.

Or you can take a myopic perspective and only sell to them “now.”

Consider the newspapers. Newspaper companies think they’re in the “newspaper” business. So it’s difficult for them to innovate outside the product that people have always wanted from them. They think their customers buy newspapers.

But that’s not at all what their customers buy. Their customers buy “news.” That’s a fundamentally different way to look at the value provided.

So their customers have become people who seldom read things on recycled wood pulp anymore. News customers engage smartphones, tablets, laptops, social media platforms, and countless other sources of news.

The “newspaper” business might be dying but the “news” business–at least the market and demand for news–has never been greater. If newspaper companies forgot the paper part, what innovative solutions could they come up with to not only meet their customers with the reality of today but to lead them to the promise of tomorrow?

What about your industry? Do people actually buy “coaching?” What do they buy instead? Are people actually buying “website design?” What solution are they really seeking? Do your customers care that you’re a wellness coach? What personal change are they willing to put money on?

Knowing the business that you’re really in helps you to see how your customers grow and change beyond the 1-point product or service you’re selling now.

Your customers’ needs change. Their desires evolve. The way they want to interact with you and your community transforms. The way they want to be communicated with shifts.

This can be scary. But it’s really an opportunity.

As your understanding of your customer-through-time evolves, you will see that there are truly countless opportunities for you to meet their changing needs. There are desires & needs that naturally rise to the surface as the people you serve grow. Those desires & needs translate to offers & opportunities, each with its own set of constraints and objectives.

Each time you identify one of these needs, you have the opportunity to layer the messaging, community, and revenue for that new offer on top of your existing offers. And that can lead to big returns in each department.

Seeing your ideal customer as a living, breathing, growing human being means you can see your business as a living, growing, thriving organism instead of a one-trick pony.

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The Customer Perspective Process - Customer Journey

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12 comments on “Knowing your customer goes beyond “now”

  1. Treat your customer like an individual. Classic, and so true. But hard to do in real life some times.

  2. Yes! I agree.

    I’ve identified “my people” as ambitious global citizens looking to do what they do on a more global scale. I live in Chile, and my clients are local. I teach a social entrepreneurship class at a university, teach English to environmental attorneys, coach a biotech startup on pitches and presentations, and am working with a training consultancy on web products. All of these people are in the process of or on the verge of extending their work beyond its current borders. So of course I need to think about where my students are now, as well as where they aim to be in a few months or years.

    I have lots of ideas of how to deliver this same sort of value through my website, and in a few months I expect to have the time to really dig into that.

    Thanks for articulating this in a way that’s more action-oriented than I’d previously been thinking.