“If you build it, they will come” is only true in sales if you know exactly who you want to come your way. If you assume that creating a great product or service model and “getting it out there” is enough, you may find yourself struggling to create reliable growth.
By narrowing in on who you can best serve, your sales organization can avoid wasting resources on poor product-market fit. And by clearly defining your target, your team can readily align on messaging, sales tactics, and goals. Here’s how to define your ideal client.
Revisit your value proposition.
When you’re looking for a romantic partner, you focus just as much, if not more, on what you have to offer as what a potential date might bring to the table. The same is true of identifying your ideal client.
To thrive, your understanding of who you’re selling to needs to be rooted in what you’re selling. And what you’re selling is not your product, not your services, but the value you provide. When considering your ideal client, your value proposition must align with their needs.
For example, take a look at the following value proposition: “We help companies create corporate event experiences that expand team knowledge, boost sales, and increase revenue.”
If you were the leader of this organization, your ideal client would be companies whose events are dedicated not just to increasing sales but also to learning. Companies needing an event planner for their corporate gala wouldn’t be an ideal fit. But companies looking to establish an annual sales conference would be right up your alley.
Study your current clients.
If you’re stumped as to how to articulate your ideal client, take a look at the customers you’ve already built strong relationships with. Explore both who they are and what works about your partnership:
Answering these questions about your current client base and searching for patterns will help you create a clear picture of your ideal client.
Identify your top industry sectors.
It’s tempting to cast a broad net, especially when you’re looking to get your business off the ground. After all, the more customers the better, right?
Not really. Your ideal client is one that your organization has a good grasp of. And no matter how skilled your team is, their capacity to really understand the inner workings of other industries is limited. Partnering with customers from any industry that comes your way will likely lead to a shallow picture of client need, scattered team energy, and stagnant sales.
To create repeatable, sustained growth, you want to narrow in on and study your best-fit industries.
There’s a big difference between your ideal client and your idealized client. Just as it’s hard to give up on romantic pipe dreams, it can be difficult to adjust your expectations about who your best client is. You may think that your services are tailor-made for Fortune 500 apparel companies and discover, with time, research, and trial and error, that your golden ticket is really mid-sized food manufacturing businesses.
You want to make sure you are pursuing the audience that is the best fit for what you offer, not who you think should be the best fit.
When defining your ideal customer, take a good look at what partnerships have been fruitful for you and what pursuits have cost a lot of time and effort — without solid results.
Do market research.
While looking at your internal data and past experiences is an excellent way to understand what’s working and what’s not, market research can help you uncover paths you might not have thought to explore. What’s more, market research can be especially effective in telling the difference between a pipe dream and a dream client.
Focus groups and external surveys can help you determine if your hypotheses about your target market bear out. You can also do research to understand how big a specific market is to better understand your ideal fit. Do this for each target audience you want to pursue to help validate or reassure a target audience strategy.
Create a persona.
Now that you have a strong idea of the value you create, who you’ve sold successfully to in the past, and what industries you’re targeting, you’re ready to delve into the process of creating a persona.
A persona is a semi-fictionalized representation of your ideal customer. It’s grounded in market research, current customer information, and industry knowledge. You want to include detailed information in this representation, including:
Here’s an example of a persona of an ideal client for a B2B communication SaaS company who sells to the staffing and recruiting industry:
Persona: Steve the Staffing Executive
Job title: CEO or President of a staffing and recruiting company
Goals: Gain more new clients, go deeper with current clients, increase recruiter productivity, and improve candidate response rates, be seen more and more as a resource to current and new clients
Challenges: Standing out from competition in a highly competitive industry. Getting candidates to respond, retaining core staff, and attracting top talent
Sources of Industry information: Staffing Industry Analysts, StaffingHub, Inc, Forbes
Story: Steve has been in staffing and recruiting for 10+ years. He manages a large team of recruiters and works hard to adapt in a constantly changing and increasingly competitive industry. He has a core fan base of loyal candidates, and while the reputation of his company gets him far, the market for talented candidates is tight. He needs to break through the noise, as a talented candidate will receive 10+ email and voicemail messages each day. He wants a reliable, unique solution for getting candidate attention that will please his recruiters and speed sales.
Once you have this level of understanding of your ideal client, you can hone your marketing efforts, refine your value messaging, and ensure your sales team is aligned on who you’re selling to.
Defining your ideal customer may seem like a daunting task but it’s well worth the effort. By aligning your team on who you want to provide solutions for, all of your sales team’s activity — from generating leads to closing deals — will be more targeted, efficient, and fruitful.
Looking for more on defining your audience? Check out our target audience worksheet and video.
Your value proposition is your company’s North Star: it guides you in every client-focused aspect of your business and provides direction in times of confusion. That’s a lot of weight for a few sentences.
Your value proposition is important because it embodies what you provide your clients. Look at any successful company: every one of them clearly articulates the value they offer. For example, Slack’s value proposition is “making working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive — for everyone.” Digit’s is “save money, without thinking about it.”
This strategic message helps your clients find you and helps your team rally behind what you do. Without one? The internal and external confusion that commonly results in lost sales.
Here are a few reasons why you might be avoiding writing a value proposition — and tips for working through those blocks.
You’re only focused on leads.
Creating your value proposition may seem like a time-waster compared to the everyday quest of attracting clients, but it definitely isn’t. Operating without one can create the kind of inconsistent experience that may hurt your brand — and your growth.
If you are unclear on the value you provide, you’re likely unclear on who you provide it to and how you create it. Without an understanding of these foundations — value, audience, and offerings — your team is selling blind. You may be successful in the short-term in generating some sales, but you’ll be closing fewer deals than you could with alignment. Without clarity around these fundamentals, growth often plateaus.
Everyday operations and closing deals today are both crucial to keeping the lights on. But if you want those lights to be on five or ten years down the road, make time for deep, strategic thinking today.
Your leadership team isn’t aligned.
Does your leadership team see eye to eye about what you offer? Without this alignment, it’s difficult for leaders to guide organizations effectively. This lack of clarity can impact not only your team but how clients perceive you.
It’s easy to believe that you and your partners are aligned even if you are not. You have an intimate understanding of your product, right? You’re experts! However, your value proposition is the articulation not of what you sell but of the need that your products or services fulfill.
So, for example, you may be aligned on the fact that you are selling event services to small- to mid-sized businesses. But your partner may see your primary value as “saving busy executives time and money by taking responsibilities off their plates” while you see your primary value as “bringing clients the new ideas that really engage audiences.” Neither answer is right or wrong, but misalignment can lead to inconsistent messaging and ultimately miscommunicating your real value. Both saving resources and creating engaging experiences are great value propositions for event services businesses. But only one should be your primary focus, the goldstar message that you communicate to your team and to your customers.
Take the time to really articulate — together — what you think the purpose of your company is in the eyes of your clients. If you find disagreement or differences of opinion within leadership, these are often opportunities for growth.
You’re afraid of getting it wrong.
Nothing stifles curiosity and creativity quite like perfectionism. If you and your partners find yourselves continually revisiting and redrafting your value proposition but never finalizing it, you may be paralyzed by fear of getting it wrong.
There’s no doubt that the value proposition is important. But overemphasizing how crucial it is to the point that you are operating without one is counterproductive. Your value proposition will grow and change with your company over time and with the changing needs of your client base.
Don’t languish without one. After some hard work, client research, and open conversation, give one of your best drafts of your value proposition a try.
You need to embrace growth and change.
It’s even more important to sync with your team as your company grows. If you resist writing your value proposition, or reworking one that’s outdated, you need to take a good hard look at what’s changing and how you’re handling it.
Perhaps the real value of your offerings has incrementally changed with your audience. It’s easy to overlook this kind of gradual change — until you find your value proposition sounding increasingly stale or inaccurate.
Periodically reevaluate what you’re providing your clients — and why. Take regular client polls that help you understand what challenges you help them meet. Check in with your sales team — not just on their numbers, but on questions and thoughts from leads and clients.
Look for patterns and create messaging that reflects your current solutions and where you are headed in the future. This will not only help keep your value proposition on-point but will help you stay on the pulse of your clients.
Not writing a value proposition plagues companies for some of the reasons outlined above. But every company needs one, including yours. It guides your sales efforts, helps express what you do for potential clients, and leads your company in the right direction.
Do you need help developing your company’s value messaging? Explore this worksheet and video with your team.
I’m Karl Becker and I help individuals and organizations improve how they sell. My focus is on clear, concise, actionable solutions.
In short, I'll show you how to increase performance and generate more revenue.
This blog shares approaches, tools, and ideas that I have seen create success.
If you’re interested in discussing anything, please reach out.