Marketing departments are routinely challenged to come up with new campaigns that will attract buyers to the company’s offering. Unfortunately, we sometimes get caught up in creating clever slogans and witty text, and lose sight of the most important thing in the buying process. The customer. 

Do you know who purchases your products or services? Can you identify that person by job title? Do you know what, or who, influences their purchase decisions? Do you know which of the more than 13,000 trade shows that take place in North America each year they attend? 

Developing a customer profile will help to keep your marketing focused on your customers. This valuable tool can be used to educate your marketing, sales and customer service staff about your target audience. It will simplify and bring clarity to your marketing. It will also ensure that you are speaking to your customer in a language they understand and through the medium they prefer, whether e-mail, advertising, direct mail or other. 

The more time and effort you invest in developing your customer profile, the more useful you will find it. Start by asking yourself these four key questions about your customers: 

1. Who are they? 
Getting personal will help you to crystallize your customer profile. Can you visualize what your average customer looks like? Are they individual consumers, or employed by a large corporation? What is their education level? What interests them? How do they spend their budget? 

2. Where are they? 
The major fast food chains spend substantial research dollars to determine the right locations for their outlets. They know they need to go to their customers. Beyond placing your customers geographically, you must also understand their media habits. Do they read certain magazines, subscribe to industry newsletters or attend certain industry conferences? 

3. How many are there? 
How big is the market? Will it support your business? Estimating the size of a market can be a difficult task. You may need to rely on an educated guess, particularly if your product or service is new and unique, but don’t base your estimate purely on "feelings". Do whatever you can to verify the data you collect. 

4. Why do they buy what they do? 
What motivates your customers’ buying decisions? Is service more important than price? Do they value quality above all else? Do status, fear, security or other emotional factors come into play? 

In developing your customer profile, make use of your existing customer database. Spend some time talking with your clients. Ask them about their decision-making process and what in particular convinced them to do business with your organization. Don’t shy away from initiating open dialogue with customers. It can help strengthen your relationship and open the door for expanding your offering. Similarly, don’t shy away from talking to customers that have left or lodged complaints. As Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” 

Customer profiling can be as simple or complex as you make it, depending on the resources you have available to dedicate. If need be, start small by getting to you know your existing clients intimately. Over time, you can expand your profiles to include new markets and target audiences. Be sure to update your customer profile at least every six to 12 months, as the market will shift with the life cycle of your offering.