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It is incredibly important to know who you’re selling to, and I’m not just talking about some vague idea of who you work with, but an actual, personal knowledge of the people on the other side of the internet who pay for your products and services. Surprisingly, the more I talk with marketers and ask them about who their audiences are, the more I realize that many companies truly have no idea who their customers are.

What results is a dis-service to your customers, the very people who make your job exist, because you aren’t able to fully understand them and thus are often irritating your customers with unnecessary or off-topic messaging.

What I’d like to do in this piece is walk you through my method for understanding an audience. This method works even if you’re starting from scratch, and it’s also an amazing refresher even if you’ve been in business for a long time and have a bunch of customers.

Before jumping into that though I just want to set the record straight because “target audience” is most definitely a marketing buzzword and I just want to debunk the term by putting it in real words.

Target Audience: (Definition) The people who buy (or are in the market to buy) your products or services.

Now that we’re clear about what a target audience is, let’s dive into how to find yours.

Part 1: Make an educated guess about who you sell to

No matter what stage of business you’re in, there will always be a level of guessing when it comes to your target audience. If you haven’t started yet than this is purely a guess, if you’re at a later stage then you may know a lot about who your audience is, but not everything.

Once you make a guess at who your audience is, write it down. To document it. I’ve put my example below for reference.

Example Overview of Target Audience:

Marketing professionals ages 27-45 who are in consumer-facing companies (sell to individuals, not companies). We want forward-thinking marketers, which can be identified by which other technologies they have already adopted (marketing automation, facebook ads, etc.)

Part 2: Talk with your target audience to see if it’s really a good fit

Now the task is to discover whether this really is your target audience.

I usually go through Linkedin or Google to find the companies I want to talk to, then identify my contacts based on who I have some sort of connection with (whether we went to the same college, live in the same city, or have mutual friends). I reach out to people by asking for their advice, which is exactly what I want and it’s so much easier to get someone’s advice than it is to ask them to hear your pitch because no one wants to hear your pitch.

Metric: 10% buy-in rate, which means that 1 of 10 people you talk to should be ready to use your product right away. If you haven’t built your product yet this is to use your product for free, if you are already live, this is for actually selling the product.

Part 3: Refine your target

If you don’t have the 10% buy-in rate needed to verify your target audience, you’ll have to go back and refine who you think your audience actually is. This can happen in two ways. Sometimes it means you have to broaden your search to include more people, and other times you have to narrow it down – more often than not it’s the latter and you should narrow your search to identify a target audience that is more willing to buy in.

My Advice: Don’t skimp on this part. You should set a hard and fast rule for yourself that if you don’t get at least 10% positive responses (and have the data to back that up, feelings don’t count in this case), you should continue refining until you get that number because if you mess this up it’s way more expensive to spend time marketing to the wrong people.

Part 4: Discovering where your company fits

Even with 10%

Part 5: Training your team on your target audience:

Once you established your target audience, the next important thing is to make sure everyone on your team is aligned on it so any one person could explain who you sell to. My favorite way to train on target audience (besides showing your process for finding the target audience in the first place), is to use the audience flash-card game, check out the details below.

The audience flash-card game

Instructions: Select five personas of people in your target audience. Pull up their Linkedin profiles or websites (if you sell to people with their own sites). Then select an additional 10 personas or websites that are not in your target audience. When you are training new team members on your target audience, go through the companies or websites at random and ask the new person to explain why each one is or isn’t a good fit.

In Conclusion:

I put out a lot of ideas in this post, but if I had to leave you with one thing to go do right now it’s this. Pick 3-5 people who are either your customers or potential customers and ask them if you can get some advice from them for one hour in the next week. When you talk, ask them questions about what they do, how they do it, and what they find challenging about their work. You should talk less than 20% of the time on these calls, and rather just listen actively and ask good questions. I guarantee you you’ll learn more in those 3-5 hours than you can learn in 100 hours of reading and researching on your target audience.


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