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What to Do When Your Ideal Customer Isn't Who You Expected Most businesses choose their target customer based on self-perception of their brand, and then the marketing team goes after them. Your own perception of your brand, however, doesn't always reflect what's actually happening in the marketplace.

By Jonathan Herrick

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Eva-Katalin | Getty Images

Most companies trust their "gut" when locking in their target market. After all, the larger the prospect pool, the bigger the sales growth, right?

Not so fast.

It's not as simple as selling your products and services to anyone who will throw you a few Benjamins. To truly grow your business and keep customers coming back, you need to intimately know who your "radical buyer" is.

Most businesses choose their target customer based on self-perception of their brand, and then the marketing team goes after them. Your own perception of your brand, however, doesn't always reflect what's actually happening in the marketplace, leaving your business vulnerable to missed opportunities and growth.

Harley-Davidson's typical target customer, for example, is almost a cliché: bandanna, sunglasses, maybe a beard and lots of leather -- not the type who cruises around Manhattan in January. So Asaf Jacobi wasn't surprised when winter sales at his New York Harley-Davidson dealership were low. He was selling only one or two bikes a week.

However, instead of chalking up the poor sales to timing and location demographics, Jacobi took a risk and implemented Albert, a marketing tool with an AI engine. Albert quickly found that the Harley customer base in New York City was much broader than the small niche normally associated with the brand. With marketing software churning to target this larger base with messaging, Jacobi's dealership sold 15 motorcycles during Albert's debut weekend.

Though AI is becoming more prevalent, not every business has access to an AI engine. Through data analysis, exhaustive research and testing, our company, like Harley-Davidson, discovered a new customer base.

Rebranding requires a deep dive.

When we launched Hatchbuck, we cast a wide net targeting salespeople, marketers and business owners. Although all of our segments were buying, we felt like some customers were a better fit for our sales and marketing automation platform. We decided to peel back the layers to reveal our "best customer."

To uncover the fabric of our radical buyer, we crunched data, captured survey responses and interviewed current and past customers by asking, "Do you identify as an entrepreneur or a small business owner?" and "Does your business compete on price, quality or service?" to drill down to their attitudes, behaviors and beliefs.We also asked about their buying intent and how well we were helping them overcome challenges.

Surprisingly, our biggest promoters weren't who we thought they were. While our software had been built for smaller businesses from day one, we'd been attracting larger companies looking for feature-rich software on a budget. These customers were also detractors, so we shifted focus to our promoters: Small business owners looking for an all-in-one sales and marketing platform that's simple to use.

Concentrating on creating the best experience for our best customers, we whittled down our mission statement to reflect our new target, overhauled our design -- from our logo and color palette to our website -- and launched a new version of our software to home in on the needs of this narrower base. These tweaks helped define our mission and zero in on exactly whom we should sell to.

Refining for your radical buyer.

Although revelations about our customer activity led to moderate changes in our business strategy, such customer insights can cause other companies to transform entirely.

Twitter, for example, was once a podcasting platform called Odeo. After several shifts in leadership, vision and product, Twitter has become a simple tool for thought leaders to promote content. In fact, 83 percent of the world's leaders use it to communicate with their audience and promote their brands. Twitter might never have evolved into one of today's top social media channels if it hadn't searched for other audiences.

Related: 4 Ways a "Data-Driven' Approach Anticipates Buyer Behavior

Here are three ways to find out who your radical customer really is and use those findings to impact all aspects of your product development, sales and marketing.

1. Step outside your comfort zone and customer base.

Everyone wants more customers, but quantity doesn't always equal quality. A client signed today might drop off tomorrow. Sales and marketing teams waste a lot of time, money and energy chasing and even celebrating the wrong type of client.

To find the right clients, research is crucial. Although our survey of current clients found promoters and detractors, we also stepped outside our pool of customers. Leveraging sites such as SurveyMonkey and Google, we surveyed their audiences based on our desired parameters. On our own website, pop-up surveys collected feedback on pricing and positioning. With this carefully crafted net, we were able to find unexpectedly ideal clients and reel them in.

Companies that research to find their ideal customers have a huge leg up on the competition. A survey by DNN (formerly DotNetNuke) found that 72 percent of companies are unable to do so.

Related: 5 Must-Answer Questions to Succeed Targeting Your Customer Base

2. Break down the data -- and use it.

Collecting great data is important, but data alone is meaningless if you don't analyze and integrate it into your strategy.

After filtering our responses by role ("marketing director" or "owner," for example), our promoters and detractors suddenly became glaringly obvious. This type of filtering and segmenting shows who's in love with your product or service and who isn't a great fit, providing valuable intel for your sales and marketing teams to use in the future.

Companies use different filters, depending on industry. When Netflix, for example, filtered for customers who enjoy "films directed by David Fincher" (who went on to direct "House of Cards") and "films starring Kevin Spacey," it found an overwhelming majority of its subscribers at the time fell into both categories.

Analysts saw it as a bold move to pick up a full season of "House of Cards" as its first original series. But decision makers at Netflix rested assured -- the customer data accurately predicted the (now award-winning) show would be a sure thing.

3. Make sure your brand messaging resonates.

Once you find your target, you need to hit it accurately. That's where messaging comes in.

Our previous tagline -- "Growing Your Business" -- didn't resonate with our ideal client, who was more concerned with serving customers and catching sales opportunities before they slipped through the cracks. After we understood that, our new tagline was born: "Seize the Opportunity."

Related: 3 Crucial Tips to Undergo a Brand Facelift and Make the Changes Stick

A report by the Rockefeller Corporation found 68 percent of customers spurn companies that don't appear to care about them; this shows just how critical a clear, carefully crafted message is. The right message shows how your aims align with your customers' needs.

"If you're not growing, you're dying," as the saying goes. Even novices in the business world know that change is inevitable and stasis impossible. Still, it's human nature to want to maintain the status quo. Change is scary.

Think only the brave or crazy seek out new and different markets, clients and customers? While moving the target often means changing your company in a fundamental way, it's sometimes the only path forward.

Jonathan Herrick

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

CEO of Benchmark

Jonathan Herrick is CEO and chief high-fiver at Benchmark Email, BenchmarkONE and Contacts+, bringing together 150 employees serving over 25,000 customers and 1 million users in 15 countries and nine languages worldwide.

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