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How to Identify Your Historic Customer

customer behavior markets strategy Jan 21, 2011

Often, businesses don’t take the time to define who their ideal customer is.

Not simple stats on the status quo of current customers – but thinking through who their “ideal” – best – perfect –want more of these – customers are.

To define your ideal customer you first need to have a firm understanding of who your historic customer is – no time travel required. I simply mean the type of customer you’ve done business with until now. Really, that may encompass two phases of looking-back time.

You’ve got the customer you’ve been dealing with most recently, and then there may also have been the “good old days” of a customer that used to buy from you in greater numbers, perhaps because of some trend in the economy or other circumstance that allowed you to tap a greater– or just different – customer base than you have now.

How far into history you want to go is up to you, but obviously, if you’re IBM, you don’t need to go back to when you made typewriters, but you might want to go back and start thinking about anywhere near the target market you’re looking to be in. Where have you had success before? Develop some characteristics around that market. For example, if it’s a retail service or product that you offer, what is the demographic that has typically purchased it?

Have they been making this purchase directly from you online, through supermarkets, or at flea-markets?

A Framework to Identify Your Historic Customer

Start putting down identifying markers such as age, gender, and other descriptors for the individuals who have bought from you historically. If you’re not sure who this historical customer is, maybe it’s time to create a survey or some other (obviously legal, inoffensive, non-intrusive) way. You could use low-key polls, such as through your Facebook page, or have a full-blown survey company take a statistically valid sampling of your customer base – but one way or another, understanding who they are is essential.

For B2B companies, it’s a little easier, but again, you need to slice and dice. Consider geography– where are the companies that are buying from you? What industry are they in? How big are they? Who, within those companies, is actually buying from you? (Is it the purchasing manager, the CEO, or the secretary?) Of course, it depends on what you sell – but really think this through.

All of this just gives you a framework for understanding your ideal customer. So, what you need to do is take a look at that, and start trying to draw out commonalities – those things that represent the success factors behind the sales you’ve been making.

If 70% of your sales, historically, are purchased by women, then you know that you have a product that skews towards women. That may be “duh” obvious if it’s a product specifically designed to do that, but where it becomes an opportunity is when you discover things about your customer base you didn’t know before.

When was the last time you really looked at your customers and how they function?