Remember that Aesop’s Fable of ‘The Miller, His Son, and Their Donkey’? If not, then it’s story time! Here’s a very brief outline of the tale:

  • A miller and his son take their donkey to the market to sell it.
  • Along the way they meet several characters who criticise them about their trip.
  • The miller and his son adjust their journey according to these criticisms: when told they should be riding the donkey, the miller puts his son on its back.
  • When criticised for not respecting the aged, the miller replaces himself on the donkey’s back and the son walks.
  • When the father is told he’s being a bad parent, the miller lets his son ride on the donkey’s back with him.
  • When told they are cruel for putting too much weight on the donkey, they carry it on their backs with its feet tied together and hooked onto a pole.
  • As they cross a bridge near the town, the townsfolk laugh at the sight of them and the commotion frightens the donkey, who breaks free of the restraints, tumbles into the river and drowns.

The moral of the story is that if you try to please everyone, you won’t end up pleasing anyone – least of all yourself (or your business). You need to focus on a clear target audience and stick to it. So, here’s the million-pound question:

Who are you selling to?

When we first ask our clients this question, we often get general replies such as: 'financial advisers', 'pet owners' and ‘parents’. There’s nothing wrong with these responses: general labels offer a stripped-back clarity that help explain who you are to prospects. Job roles, in particular, offer a great starting point to help understand who it is you’re selling to.

But there are more savvy ways to create real, in-depth profiles of the businesses you’re selling to: we call these your Ideal Buyer Profiles. Once you’re armed with this wisdom, you’ll find you understand far more about your prospects and customers, and are better able to personalise the services you offer them.

What is an ideal buyer profile?

Definition:

Your ideal buyer profile is the business you are selling to. It's the organisation for which the people you are selling to (buyer personas) work.

For example:

An ice-cream company would be tempted to have an ideal buyer profile of 'cafes' or 'theatres'. But is that really the ideal buyer for their business? It might be more profitable for them to sell to service stations or supermarkets.

Our Director of Operations, Lucy Seymour advises:

“Your ideal buyer profile should represent the type of organisation that your business can best support. While rarely relevant for B2C brands, a B2B business will be able to use a buyer profile to both target their marketing content and qualify their leads. What size of organisation can you support? What sector do they work in? What location will they be in?”

While it’s hard to turn potential business away, admitting to yourself that you just can’t support a certain type of customer will save you a lot of hassle and worry in the long run. Creating accurate buyer profiles enables your entire team – from sales to service and marketing – to spot a great-fit customer when they see one, speaking to them, tailoring great service and creating useful content to them accordingly. Ensure everyone in your business understands exactly what you are (and aren’t) looking for in a customer.

What questions should you ask yourself?

Ask yourself these questions before creating (and training your team about) your ideal buyer profile:

1. Size of business – Is there an ideal size? Does this mean the number of staff and offices, or the number of customers they work with?

2. Section of that business – Is your product or service going to benefit a particular department? Will it solve problems for the HR team just as much as the IT team, or is it more department specific?

3. Business location – Can you work with anyone around the globe? Do you have 24/7 processes in place to support this? Are there restrictions to selling outside of your country or area?

4. Job roles within the business – Who are the main decision makers at the business? Who do you need to be communicating with in order to move sales forward?

5. A bad-fit business – Who don’t you want to work with, based on previous experience of early-churn customers? What factors make a ‘bad’ business for you?

6. Business revenue – Is there a particular turnover you need in order for businesses to succeed with you? Can they afford to invest in you financially?

7. Business goals – Do they have clear business goals? Do you understand them? Do you know how your product or service can help get them there?

8. Business values and attitudes – Do their brand values align with yours? How do they treat their customers? Do they have similar priorities and attitudes to you?

Deciding your ideal buyer profiles doesn’t have to be a long, difficult process; take the time to answer the questions above and flesh out your ideal buyer profile.

A quick activity: Try turning these questions into a checklist that you can use when qualifying a prospective new client.

An even quicker activity: Write down 10 businesses you know – famous, local and otherwise – who would fit into your ideal buyer profile.

How to learn from the market

The market is more competitive than ever, so by not slimming down the group of businesses you want to target, you’re making life so much harder for yourself. LeadFuze explains the importance of profiling in a changing online world:

“First, taking (at least) a basic look at who you’re trying to reach and how they’ll possibly be interacting with your brand is no longer optional.

Your prospects are better at researching solutions, all the information needed is readily available, and your competitors are working hard to understand how to better reach and sell to YOUR customers.”

You can’t afford not to be profiling your ideal buyers, because one of your more switched-on competitors will be doing an excellent job of it – they’ll come along and poach your business right from under your nose. Understanding what makes a good-fit and bad-fit potential customer is the first, basic step towards working more smartly and growing your business. IMI reports that Tony Zambito, founder and leading authority in buyer insights and buyer personas, found:

“Nearly 80% of businesses consider profiles and personas to be synonyms, and don’t fully understand what they are and how to develop or use them.”

Are you one of them? Are you missing a trick? We’ve got more information on buyer personas over on our blog, but for now – we hope your understanding of ideal buyer profiles is increasing. It’s time to become part of the 20% striving to understand your customer better, to help your business grow better.

What your current customers can teach you

Being honest with yourself is at the core of accurate buyer profiling: we’d all love to work with only philanthropic millionaires who fly you out to their office in the Bahamas every time they want some product training, but if this isn’t the kind of customer you’ve worked with up until this point (and if it is – let us know how!) then this isn’t your ideal buyer profile.

You need to take a good look at the businesses you’ve sold to thus far; identify their similarities and differences, looking for patterns and trying to find emerging themes. Research the common traits of your existing customers by:

  • Digging around in your CRM for sectoral, geographical and financial similarities
  • Emailing or calling existing/past customers, asking what their pain points were that initially led them to you – what solutions were they seeking?
  • Send out a quick quantitative survey to ask customers basic questions about their successes, barriers, priorities, worries and goals.

Internal Results advises businesses just starting out with ideal buyer profiles to:

“Start with a relatively small, niche market that seeks the benefits of a particular solution. Identify the core profile traits and behaviours that your existing customers within that niche market have in common.”

Avoiding time-sapping, low-fit leads should be top of all of our to-do lists. We all want to build strong, lasting relationships with prospects who will actually benefit from your product or service. What’s the point in spending precious time communicating with a prospect you just can’t help?

Remember:

Don’t try to keep everyone happy – don’t be that man and his boy with the donkey – drill down into the exact details of your clients’ businesses. Qualify leads during the sales process by homing in on the right kind of client from the start: this will offer you far more opportunities to delight the customers who are an ideal fit for your business.