What does your perfect customer look like? It doesn’t pay to bemoan the way our bad customers treat us. They pay late, they always make changes, they pay low prices.
Most businesses don’t get great clients for three reasons. First, they’ve not taken the time to seriously consider what a great client looks like. Second, they’ve not taken the time to make something that addresses the problems of that perfect client. Third, a transition from bad clients to perfect clients is rare. There’s a large chasm between the two sets of clients and the nature of the work each set requires. To switch and change your business from bad clients to great ones is a challenge.
The best way to get great clients is to figure our who they are and what they want before you even start building your product. Failing that, start today. Start creating a detailed description of who they are, what they want and what problems they have.
What does a great client look like?
Here is a list of the questions to ask yourself when building the picture of a great client:
1. What will they pay?
Different people and businesses want different things. Price is used by everyone as crutch to filter out products. If you want to buy the best, you look for premium prices because the best charge a premium.
On the other hand, if you believe everyone out there is offering the same thing and you just want the minimum to meet specification, you’ll get the cheapest.
Everyone else is in between these two types of customer.
Given the choice between working for someone that just wants you to deliver the bare minimum and the person that wants you to deliver your very best, we can agree that a great client belongs in the latter group. Your price needs to be above the average to attract that customer.
2. They didn’t send you a Request for Proposal
When a company sends out a request for proposal (RFP) along with a specification, they’re asking you to price for a specific list of tasks. Those tasks are being sent out to other competing suppliers. You’re measured side by side, with the only differentiator being price. Everything else that you provide is considered equal or irrelevant.
The alternative is a client that wants more from you. They don’t want to tell you what to do, they want you to tell them what they should be doing. You’re providing greater value and expertise with the challenge of doing your best work.
When you receive an RFP, you’re either not adding value to the client earlier enough in the chain of decision making, or this just isn’t the client for you. Try moving up the chain (i.e. contractor to architect, or architect to client) or simply finding clients that want you to put the specification forward rather than vice versa.
3. Good taste
It’s likely that your client works with businesses similar to yours from different ‘vertical’ markets that come before your own. If you’re a web developer, that’ll be illustrators, photographers, marketing communications, etc. Your ideal client will have good photography or illustrations rather than cheap stock across their existing website.
If they haven’t paid for professional photography in the past, it’s unlikely they’ll pay you to do work you’re proud of. They haven’t valued their brand image enough to invest in it previously, they’re not going to change their approach now. On the other hand, it could be they don’t have the money to invest. Either way, they’re not the perfect client.
4. New to market
We want customers with good taste, but if you sell web design and the target already has a beautiful website, they probably don’t need a new one. If they do, they have an existing relationship with a provider that you need to break. That’s difficult.
The alternative is a client that demonstrates great taste, but doesn’t currently have what you offer. In this scenario, you need to find new businesses that haven’t yet built their website but have the funds to invest in something great that you can provide.
Alternatively, if you were offering a more specific service, say mobile development for law firms, you may target clients that have clearly invested in a good website, but for whom you could significantly improve the mobile version.
5. They believe what you do
You can’t change how or what people think. It takes too long and it’s an uphill battle. Better to understand what their current worldviews are and sell a product aligned to their beliefs. If you sell vegan foods, seek out the vegans and sell to them rather than try to convert the meat eaters.
6. They buy what you sell
Don’t try and sell running shoes to people that don’t run. Seems obvious, but many stumble trying to sell their product to people that aren’t interested. Writing a book for an audience of people that don’t read more than one book a year is a bad strategy. If you make software, best target clients that are in the habit of buying software and already believe that good software is a wise investment.
7. They have a hangout
For most businesses, the ideal client already has a hangout. That’s a place where the cohort get together. Could be online on a blog, forum or Facebook group. Could be offline at meet-up or networking events.
If you’ve identified a target client base, but can’t find a hangout group, it could mean they either don’t have one or they’re not a legitimate group of people that you should target.
If they don’t currently have a formal network, this could represent an opportunity. Bringing the group together makes you the linchpin, which brings significant advantage and privileges. On the other hand, it takes a lot of work to bring the group together. If they’re not already organised, you don’t have the ideal place available to reach everyone that you hope to serve.
You may need to work on defining that target group of people again. Ryan Holiday makes the point that you can’t target ‘the kind of people who read Malcolm Gladwell’. 1 They don’t all read the same website and there is no ‘convention where Malcolm Gladwell fans get together’. That means it’s not a viable group of people because it isn’t a group.
If you can’t find a blog or Facebook group for Construction Contractors, it’s likely you’re going too broad with your target client base. Instead, niche down to plumbing or electrical contractors.
8. They’re open to change
If the person you’re trying to reach likes sticking to what they know, it’s going to be difficult to encourage them to change and switch to your solution. You can’t change that person so don’t try.
Find the neophiliacs. Could be that they read certain publications, join certain groups or attend certain seminars. Go there.
9. They make or influence purchase decisions
When you’re selling to businesses, your ideal target client is the person that either makes a purchase decision or influences one. This is the person, not the business. A business doesn’t buy what you have to sell. A person within that organisation makes the purchase on behalf of the business.
It’s much easier to sell a solution that solves a problem for someone who either makes the purchase or can influence the purchase. Sales software is notoriously tricker to sell than marketing software because sales teams don’t tend to have budgets for software, whereas marketing departments do.
Convince a marketing director that your product solves their problem and they have the money to buy. Convince a sales director that you can solve their problem and they have to speak to marketing or finance to find the funds from an allocated budget. If budget hasn’t been ring fenced for this type of purchase it’s difficult for them to buy. Much easier to target people who manage a budget.
Why do you need to know what a great client looks like?
When you paint a picture of the ideal client, you can make a start on providing a solution to solve a problem they have and sell it to them, or you can make adjustments to your existing products to align them with what your ideal client wants to buy.
It’s a myth that you can work your way up to the perfect customer. You don’t climb a staircase, starting with bad customers and working your way up to great ones.
Start with bad customers, and you’ll forever find yourself in the cycle of taking bad client after bad client in order to pay the bills. You can’t afford to turn away the next bad job that comes up because you need to make payroll. But, bad jobs don’t lead to good jobs, because you’re building a culture and body of work which doesn’t attract great clients.
They only way to attract great clients is to do great work, and the only way to do great work is to work for great clients that give you the opportunity to do great work.
- Ryan Holiday makes this point on p.83 of Perennial Seller