This article has a prerequisite article, you can find here, but a quick summary:
Once you know who you NATURALLY are (your business) and what you NATURALLY do better than others (your products and services), you can figure out who NATURALLY wants to buy them at a premium.
I’m suggesting that in your business, you employ the principle of symbiosis. In symbiosis, two organisms live in proximity to each other, to the advantage of both. A symbiotic customer is a focused cross section of humanity that represents your ideal customer. Unlike the customers we’re all used to, a symbiotic customer is one where after the transaction, you both walk away thinking you got the better end of the deal. Understanding your symbiotic customer inside and out is key. Let’s talk about who they are, how to find them, and what to do after you’ve found them.
You don’t see ferns growing on a mound of sand in the Arizona desert, and you don’t see cacti growing next to a shady creek in Oregon. Both plants are specialized and effective in their element. Your business is the same.
Certain cacti have a symbiotic relationship with ants. You can often find ant mounds near cacti. The ants are able to partake insignificant pieces of the plant, therefore sustaining their life, while being protected under the towering (to them) spines that keep predators from eating them. On the other hand, when larger animals begin to harass the cactus, the ants come in droves to protect their food source. It’s a win-win. Everyone involved is incentivized to support the other, and it’s an effortless dance that benefits both organisms.
On the other end of the spectrum, many ferns have a symbiotic relationship with fungi. We’ll avoid a botany discussion here, but suffice it to say that fungi and cacti just don’t have any benefit to each other, certainly less than an ant and a fern.
The ant and the cactus are you and your symbiotic customer. When you find, market to, and execute on what your symbiotic customer wants, you’ve got a golden goose. So, how do you find your ant? How do you find your symbiotic (or ideal) customer(s)? First, some guidelines, then an exercise.
Be as narrow as you can without narrowing your target market beyond reason.
Everything exists on a spectrum. If you can narrow your ideal customers down to an age group that is plus or minus five years, you’ll be better off than someone who only narrows it down to a 50 year variable but if you try to narrow it down to the month they were born, you may have just worked yourself out of a job.
You will end up weighing some characteristics more heavily than others, or eliminating some altogether.
If one of your main reasons for being in business is because you own a proprietary organizer that makes good use of tricky, tight quarters, you’ll care less about the demographic of gender, and more about living conditions. You’ll care more about selling to people in large cities and less about focusing on men. That’s ok. But don’t eliminate too many. In some cases, two categories may kill the deal, and in other cases you can sell to both effectively.
Now for the exercise, but first, a disclaimer. I am going to grossly over-generalize and stereotype in this next section. It’s just to get your mind going. I mean no disrespect to any group, in fact, I could easily make fun of my own stereotype if that were my goal (maybe another day), but it’s not.
The purpose here is to get you thinking in a few dimensions about your ideal customer(s). This list is not comprehensive, but is a good start. Feel free to add to it. As you read down through these, after each section ask yourself if this is applicable to you or not. If it is, make a note of which group fits your customer. At the end, we’ll put it all together.
Is your target 18 year old college kids, 40 year old working professionals looking for semi high-end, or a 65 year old retiree wanting a timeless piece?
Do you sell a lot of nursery changing tables, or are your best customers people who like to say the words “Man cave”?
Do you have a reputation in Chicago’s lawyer circles as the go-to for massive, official-looking walnut desks? Or do your dentist clients love your antimicrobial easy clean surfaces?
Income level and spending habits
Do your best clients like to trade money for status, do they make only a few splurges in their lifetime, or are they interested in helping you install to save some money?
Location and Living conditions
Maybe you’ve mastered online sales and shipping, and your last 50 clients were spread out over all of Northern America. Or maybe you’ve mastered permits and elevators, and your last 50 were all below 55th street in Manhattan.
Ethnicity and Nationality
If you’re known for Honduran mahogany credenzas (a vulnerable hardwood), you might want to focus your efforts somewhere besides the Honduran barrios of Miami. Also, don’t waste your money on a billboard in Northern Pennsylvania written in Cantonese.
Does your ideal client ever look up from their phone at anything? Do they read the Sunday paper and send letters? Do they answer the phone when you call, or text you back? Do they like the proposal wrapped in heavy card-stock, prefer an email, or none at all?
Desired outcomes and motives for buying
Is your ideal customer trying to shelter the homeless, organize their guest house wine cellar, or are they building movie set kitchens for explosion scenes?
Mormons love big open kitchens, Pinterest paint jobs, and large pantries. Buddhists might connect more with simplistic design and sustainable sourcing.
Culture, values, interests
Supporting veteran employment may be what some are looking for, while others want to know you’re LGBTQ+ friendly.
Social media habits
Does your ideal client hang out on Tik Tok, Facebook, or somewhere in between? Maybe they don’t even get on social media, but love Google when they need answers.
What the customer sees as value
Your customer might value disposability and availability, while some might value weight, longevity, and the ability for the product to endure thousands of chops from a meat cleaver. Will they pay more if the products are environmentally sustainable? Will they go with someone else because of their ties to the local charity?
Does your showroom ooze with dark stained walnut and cherry, crown moldings with dentil details, and books on shelves? Or, can you hardly find the difference in the floor, ceiling, and cabinets? There’s a buyer for each, and each will walk out immediately if they walk into the wrong showroom.
That’s a good place to let these points rest with you.
You should now have a list of characteristics you noted while going through this list. Let’s bring it all together. You may have found that you do best when selling to metropolitan dwelling 30 somethings looking for space-saving designs, enviro-friendly products, and high-end hardware. Maybe your sweet spot is a fast talking, burger-eating general contractor who values short turn-around times, instant bidding, cookie-cutter designs, and competitive pricing. In a rare case, you may have had an epiphany and realized everything pointing to this moment made you realize you need to be making skateboards from recycled trestle wood (a terrible idea, btw) for kids in Alaska.
Whatever you found here, that’s the ant to your cactus! That’s your symbiotic customer. Take a moment to analyze this and compare it against the customers you actually deal with. How far off is the alignment? What do you need to do in order to get it closer to 100% alignment? Do you need to make brand, location, marketing, product, personnel, or other changes?
You work on that part, and in the meantime, I will get to work writing the next article that teaches one strategy you can employ with this new caricature. Stay tuned and have the courage to change what you need to change!
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