How to clarify your who customers are and connect with them

Methods to clarify who your customers and beneficiaries are, how you can do research to connect further with them, and tactics to form deep relationships for better retention.

This is article number two in the Breaking down your Business Model article series.

If you haven’t already, check out Article 1: How to Write a Great Value Proposition

Make sure you download the Impact Business Model Canvas to follow along.

If your value proposition is the heart of your business model, your customers are the oxygen. Without oxygen, your heart doesn’t beat.

This article will teach you what you can do to clarify who your customers are (customer segments), who you’re creating an impact for (beneficiary segments), and how you connect with them (customer relationships + channels).

These are key components for your impact business model — and you need to have clarity on how they work together to drive traffic and customers to your business.

Who are your customer segments?

Your customer segments are the different types of people who use your value proposition(s). You should connect each segment with a value proposition that speaks to their unique situation.

Here’s the easiest way to crystallize your customer segments:

For your current business model, ask these questions:

  1. Who pays for our value proposition?
  2. Who uses our value proposition?
  3. What is the job they are trying to get done by using our value proposition?
  4. What are some of their common characteristics?

Ask these questions for each distinct value proposition or offering to find all of your different customer segments.

Then document your answers in Persona documents and share them with your team!

Here’s the persona template I use with all my clients

It’s an in-depth persona template, so don’t worry about filling the whole thing out. Focus more on the jobs they want to get done through your value proposition ☺️.

I recommend you do research on current, potential, and past customers on a monthly basis to stay connected to your main customers.

Quick Guide to Customer Research Interviews:

Here are a few steps to do customer research — which you should always be doing, no matter the stage of your company.

  1. Designate someone to “own” the research. If you’re a pre-seed or seed stage founder, you should own it. If not, delegate to someone who has influence in marketing, product, or sales.
  2. Answer the question — “What am I trying to learn through this research?” This is an important step that most people skip. Right now through my personal research, my answer is I’m trying to learn the most common problems that social entrepreneurs face.
  3. Create a template for questions to guide your interview. Here’s what a general template could look like to learn more about your customer segment:

Background — tell me about your history as {customer segment description} — How’d you get into it? What are you working on now?

(Jobs to be done) What are your main goals as {customer segment description}

(Worst pain point) First Problem — What’s the most pressing obstacle or problem that’s held you back from being where you want to be as a {customer segment description}? What’s keeping you up at night?

(Other pain points) What are some other problems that have held you back?

(Channels) What places do you go to look for solutions for your problems and reach your goals?

(value propositions and desired customer relationships) What would the perfect solution to your problem look like for you? What aspects would it include?

4. Create prospecting guidelines to ensure you find the right people:

My prospecting guidelines are REALLY simple. My research subjects must be:

  • A social entrepreneur or someone who works with them.
  • A founder

When coming up with your prospecting guidelines, start broad if you’re not sure exactly who your customer segments are. Then narrow as you learn more about who might be a better fit for your offering. The guidelines could include:

  • Position
  • Years in position
  • Industry or field of interest
  • Hobbies

5. Create a reach out strategy.

This part makes the actual research A LOT easier. You need to have the right strategy to actually get people to talk to you.

Incentive:

If the people you’re interviewing are really busy, you’ll want to offer them an incentive. Usually entry into a drawing to win $100 is a cheap but enticing way to offer an incentive.

Channels:

If your customer is a business or a person operating within a business context, use LinkedIn. That simple. You can use crunchbase to find the companies, but use LinkedIn to reach out. I’ve found a MUCH higher response rate than when I use email. If they’re a consumer, Instagram, Twitter, and your personal network are pretty solid ways of finding people.

Reach Out Template

Here’s a template I’ve used in a few different situations successfully:

When connecting with them on LinkedIn

Hey {name}, I’m doing research on how to best empower {people in your role}. Do you have 15–30 minutes to chat about your goals and problems? (If you have an incentive) If you participate, you’ll be entered to win $100!

After Connecting

Hi {Name}, thanks for connecting. As mentioned above, I’m doing research on how to best empower {people in your role}. Do you have 15–30 minutes to chat about your goals and problems? Let me know!

P.S. If you participate, you’ll be entered to win $100!

If they answer to the affirmative, send a scheduling link to them so finding a time is easy. I use calendly for this.

There you have it! How to do user research 😜 Little bit of a tangent, but hopefully it was valuable.

If you don’t have the time to do interview research, join communities that your customers are a part of and look for the problems and wins they post about — those are the goals and pain points that they care most about!

Now you know what a customer segment is and how to learn all about your customer segments.

To map it out, just ask “Who are our customers?” “What are their characteristics?”.

Beneficiary Segments

The beneficiary segments are the people who benefit from your value proposition and social impact. Sometimes, they’ll be the same as customer segments. But many times, they’ll include other people.

For example:

Million Dollar Teacher Project has an offering called Classroom Support Team, where they place college students in classrooms to help the teacher with administration work and managing students.

The principal is the customer segment. They buy the service.

The teachers, students, and principal are the beneficiary segments because they all reap the benefits from the product:

  • Better student performance
  • More satisfied teachers

Many impact-driven enterprises work this way, where one stakeholder pays for a product or service that benefits other people. The beneficiary segments section is a way to map this out on your business model.

To map out your beneficiary segments, ask “Who benefits from our offerings?”.

Customer Relationships — What do your interactions with customers look like?

The deeper, more genuine relationships you create with customers, the higher your average customer lifetime value.

Apple’s Genius Bar is a great example of a company creating in-depth relationships when nobody else in the consumer electronics market was.

Patagonia creates impact-enabling relationships with environmental activists and orgs around the world through it’s Actionworks program.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of customer relationships with help from Strategyzer (in italics), which are likely involved in different stages of your value cycle:

Transactional

This means the relationship doesn’t extend past the sale of goods. You buy something, and that’s the extent of the relationship. Try to go deeper than this.

Amazon’s done a good job of moving beyond this with their Smile Program. Instead of hopping on to just make a convenient purchase, you can support your favorite charities while doing so. You’re able to track the money you’ve raised, which tempts you to come back to Amazon and rack up your charity contributions instead of going to a different platform.

Long-term

This means a long-term and maybe even deep relationship is established between the company and the customer. The company interacts with the customer on a recurring basis. This is the type of relationship that service companies strive to develop with their customers.

Personal assistance

This relationship is based on human interaction. This relationship is formed when customers talk to real humans. There are many different channels through which you can maintain this relationship — over the phone, through video chat, in-person (post COVID), through email, and more recently, on Twitter.

Dedicated personal assistance

This relationship involves dedicating a customer representative specifically to an individual client. It represents the deepest and most intimate type of relationship and normally develops over a long period of time. When you have account managers, you have dedicated personal assistance.

Self-service

In this type of relationship, a company maintains no direct relationship with customers. It provides all the necessary means for customers to help themselves. An online FAQ is an instance of a company providing self-service.

Automated services

This type of relationship mixes a more sophisticated form of customer self-service with automated processes. For example, personal online profiles give customers access to customized services. Automated services can recognize individual customers and their characteristics, and offer information related to orders or transactions. At their best, automated services can stimulate a personal relationship (e.g. offering book or movie recommendations).

Communities

Communities are all about creating connections between your customers. More and more, we’re seeing communities become the center of value propositions for some companies. Sometimes, you want to create your own community. Other times, you want to add value to already existing communities.

Co-creation

This is when your company co-creates value with customers. Social media is a the best example of this, with users creating the content that holds much of the value of the platform.

Switching costs

The things that make your customers say “damn, it would be too hard to switch to this other service”. These can lead to better retention, but can also lead to dissatisfied customers who want to switch but cannot. A good example of switching costs lies in music services. If I wanted to switch from Spotify to Apple Music, I would have to manually rebuild ALL of my liked songs and playlists (over 2k songs). That would suck. So even if Apple Music offers me 3 months for free, the heavy switching costs prevent me from breaking my relationship with Spotify.

As you likely noticed, many of these relationship types can be used in parallel with each other to deepen relationships with your customers. Some will come naturally given your business, but the special sauce happens when you experiment with relationships that aren’t normal in your industry.

To map out your relationships — ask “what relationships do we create with customers?” You’ll probably have more than one, so rank all your ideas in order of how important they are to customer lifetime value.

All your relationships happen through…

Channels — Where do you interact with your customers?

Channels are the online and offline spaces where you maintain your customer relationships and make sales.

Here’s a prioritized channel starter pack for a DTC brand:

  • Website
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn

Here’s a prioritized channel starter pack for a service provider or B2B:

  • LinkedIn
  • Website
  • Conferences
  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

To map out your channels, simply ask — where do I interact with customers? Where do I make sales?

What’s Next?

You’re almost done with the customer-facing side of your impact business model!

Next, I’ll cover revenue streams and eco-social benefits. This next section how your business creates impact in the world and how it captures value.

Enjoy the article? Feel free to leave a comment. Think something is missing? Leave a comment.

Want to map out your business model with me and get closer to product market fit? Click here

Social Impact + Marketing + Design. If you need marketing or design for your social impact venture, hit my line at adam@emote.design.

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