OK no-one really says that, but it’s amazing how many founders struggle to describe their customers because there are “so many people need our product”:
“I don’t know which to prioritise”.
“Each customer I talk to I realise there’s another use case”.
“I’ve got eleven customer segments” (I seriously heard one founder say this and then had to listen to all eleven described somewhat triumphantly).
Mostly they’re kidding themselves of course.
Because whilst there are lots of potential customers, the ones likely to take action and buy today are a much smaller number. And you need to find those first.
Everyone else I describe as “mildly interested” and they are the worst vampires of time, tricking you they are really interested or care. They often need education, so you have to invest your precious time talking and writing content, but truth is they won’t act. At least maybe not before you’ve burnt through your cash.
In many situations buying is complex and convoluted, but it’s nearly always simple and straightforward if you find a customer who needs your solution. Today. They move heaven and high water, they go through hoops so you don’t need to, they blast away the Mildly Interested and beg you to help.
Of course the problem is they aren’t always knocking on your door, waiting for you to open it. Let’s face it, they likely won’t even have heard of you. But there are some things you can do. Here are three:
1. Focus on pain and progress
It’s the golden rule when it comes to customers – they simply don’t take action until their pain has reached such a pitch they have no option. My wife and I have been talking about an electric vehicle for years but the pain of lighting fire to twenty pound notes right now has pushed me to swap out petrol for EV.
But don’t stop at just understanding that pain, when does it happen, how often? Pains that bother us intermittently are displaced by pains that plague us more often. What’s the cause? For me I’d love to say I was driven by climate, but it’s the cost of petrol the has spurred me into action.
Don’t just stick with pain – look at where your customer wants to get to, progress. By providing functional solutions for our customers we move them only part way. Understanding what progress looks like to your customer will ensure you shift them to where they really want to get to.
So pain and progress – probably the best filter for your “ready to act” customer and your mildly interested “customer”. Think of it as separating your early adopter wheat from your mass market (if you’re lucky to get that far).
2. Look at the job not the persona
I’m not a fan of personas. Especially those templates you find online that make you feel you’ve cracked your customer by giving them a name, a photo and a backstory. Demographics don’t determine what we buy or don’t buy. Psychographics help but far better is understanding the Job your customer wants done.
With a persona we can get a bit fixated on Karen the 35 year-old working mother and start believing that only working mothers like her will buy our product. We are likely to miss out on John the 26 year old train spotter and Keisha the 41 year old cat lover.
By focusing on the Job to be done, we can understand the job that Karen, John and Keisha want done, the context and motivation for the job, and where they hope it will take them. There’s tonnes of great stuff on JTBD; once you’ve studied it you’ll realise it makes a lot more sense than personas and it will help you strip out all the use cases for your product and focus on the one or two that really matter. That’ll narrow you down again.
3. Start niche and build out later
And if looking at pain and defining the job still leaves with you too many customers to focus on you just need to pick one (or maybe two if you must). Founders often struggle with this because they fear missing out on revenue, leaving underserved customers to be swallowed up by their competitors.
But there’s a much bigger risk of a bland, untargeted message that seeks to appeal to many but ends up appealing to no-one. So always start as if you’re speaking to one person (in pain, with a job to be done) – you can always build out from here as you start to get traction. By then you’ll have learnt a lot more about what works in terms of language and offer, and you’ll have social proof from your early adopters to draw out the more risk averse.
Viability as well as desirability lenses can help here to prioritise one potential customer target over another. And even feasibility if you know that reaching one potential customer is more challenging than another.
Your best friend in calming fears about going too niche is experimentation – a few rapid tests over a couple of weeks will quickly show whether the niche you’ve picked feels the same about you – or whether you should move on.
We’re not programmed to do many things well. And as customers we want to feel special, like someone has built something just for us. So even if you have a hundred use cases and think the whole world needs what you offer, focus, focus and focus some more.
More than anything, if you’re wrong it’s much easier to shift to another customer problem (and job) if you can see why the previous one failed. Like a scientist, change one variable at a time, focus on just one customer at a time.