No matter what you do for a living, you have customers. And odds are you want more of them. But every customer is not equally valuable to your business. And every potential customer out there does not want to buy what you sell or buy it from you.

One of the most glossed over aspect of marketing and sales in most organizations is the deep dive you should be doing to truly understand your best prospects. The easiest way to do that is to think about the current customers you have and identify what common traits they share.

Once you have identified your best fit prospects—the people who you are most likely to delight over and over again—you need to take it one more step to help you personalize the audience and have a very tangible picture of who you’re talking to when you create content, thought leadership pieces and marketing messages.

The more real and three-dimensional these avatars or personas are, the more precise and on target your efforts will be and the more “native” it all feel to your audience.

Identify the key role that your persona should be modeled after. It might be the Dean of Admissions or a business owner of a company that has between $5-$10 million in sales. In some rare cases, you might need to create two personas, if you serve more than one core audience. But remember, not more than two. This isn’t an effort to describe ALL of your customers, just your best ones.

Here are some sample questions to get you started. The right questions (a subset of these and some you may add) will be dictated by what you sell. Answer these questions for your 1-2 avatars:

  • Demographics:
  • Gender:
  • Age range:
  • Educational level:
  • Typical degree or area of study:
  • Core values: what do they value the most personally and professionally?
  • Where does he/she work:
  • Job title:
  • Why did they choose this profession? What do/did they love about it?
  • Who is their boss?
  • Do they have a team/staff? Describe that structure.
  • What is he/she like at work? How would his/her co-workers describe him/her?
  • What do they love about working with him/her?
  • What do they dislike about working with him/her?
  • How do they communicate when things are good? How do they communicate under stress?
  • How are they being evaluated at work? How does their boss define success for them?
  • What are his/her professional goals?
  • What is his/her biggest professional challenges?
  • What does he/she get excited about?
  • What do they want to do more of?
  • What does his/her typical day tend to look like? How do they feel about that?
  • What skills/qualities are necessary to do his/her job?
  • What tools and technology do they use to do their job?
  • How do they stay current in their own industry?
  • What’s the biggest threat to their job/company?
  • How are they different/unique from their peers?
  • What publications (on and off line) do they read?
  • What associations do they participate in?
  • What are the three most critical events for their industry?
  • Where do they live (house, condo, apartment)?
  • Do they have a significant other/family?
  • How do they spend their off hours?
  • List five personality traits they exhibit
  • How do they see themselves?

Once you’ve answered all of these questions about a target customer—create a narrative about them. Think of it as telling their story. Describe them in a way that anyone who works for you would be able to recognize them.

Give them a first name and find a stock photo that represents them. I know it sounds strange but giving them a name and a face makes them even more three-dimensional and real to you and your sales team.

Once you’ve got all of that built out—as you create marketing messages—keep this persona in mind. Let’s say her name is Lucy. Ask yourself—would this resonate with Lucy? Would this catch Lucy’s eye? Where would Lucy go to get this kind of information?

The more detailed and realistic your persona is—the stronger tool it will become for you. Let your personas guide your language, channels, and key messages. Now you’re using the right kind of bait to catch the kind of fish you prefer!

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Drew McLellan
Drew McLellan has owned an advertising agency for almost 20 years, serving local, regional and national businesses. He also coaches hundreds of agencies on business best practices through peer to peer networks, workshops and consulting.  Drew is often interviewed/quoted in Entrepreneur Magazine, New York Times, CNN, BusinessWeek, and many others. The Wall Street Journal calls him “one of 10 bloggers every entrepreneur should read.” He blogs at both www.DrewsMarketingMinute.com and www.BuildABetterAgency.com.

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