Much has been said in marketing circles about target markets, demographics, psychographics and other ways to define who and what makes an ideal customer.


photo credit: Fulvio’s photos via photopin cc

The notion mostly implies that you determine the makeup of a market that your business seems suited to attract.

The thing that’s always bothered me about this simple approach is that it sort of has a lowest common denominator element to it – who can we attract?

What if you changed this point of view to something more like – whom do we deserve to work with?

Have you ever considered the following question? – What qualities would our ideal customers have?

I’ve spent the last few years evangelizing this idea of an ideal customer. For me the idea implies behavior as much as demographics.

And here’s the other thing, don’t you deserve to work with customers that appreciate your unique value?

Now some might suggest the idea of choosing your customers as somewhat egotistical, but it’s not at all. If you want to work with the leaders in your marketplace, then you better up your game so that can deserve to do so. It’s actually quite a humbling and centering idea.

I was talking about this very idea with a long time friend the other day. Eric Morgenstern’s firm, Morningstar Communications has experienced tremendous success and his roster of client reads like a “most desired” list.

Eric heard me share my thoughts on ideal customer during a presentation to a group of business owners and he later told me how behavior plays an extremely large part in the clients they seek out and, perhaps as importantly, those they don’t.

“Our clients are nice, smart and successful. Two out of three is not sustainable.”

“We’ve observed:

  • Companies that are “involved in the community” tend to value effective communications, and our high level of service.
  • Companies that are “lifelong learners” tend to value effective communications, and our high level of service.
  • Companies that are true leaders believe, “. . . an educated customer is a great customer.”

Those are correlations that help us assess each individual prospect.

So much is a gut feeling . . . about the organization and its leadership, based on expertise and experience.”

So, gather the troops and start asking about ideal customer behavior, traits and qualities that define success.

Begin by exploring personas that you don’t want to work with. Persona is a term that takes its meaning from the idea of a theatrical role. In marketing the term is used to describe the common characteristics of a customer group much like the make up of a character in a play.

A client of mine did this exercise for his design and consulting business and was able to complete sketches of the kinds of clients they did not want to work with in such a way that it made it much easier to define what ideal looked like.

He used personas with names like Lottery Winners and Destined to Be Small to frame qualities that made up red flag customers. He even went as far as to identify customers that he was no longer going to work with.

That’s the funny thing about getting some clarity around this idea – until you know who you must work with, who you choose to work with, it’s far too easy to take work and customers that drag you away from the work you deserve to be doing.

Saying it doesn’t make it so, but until you are working towards defining, understanding and nurturing who you truly deserve to be working with success will elude.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • The other thing this exercise does is that it helps frame who *you* have to be in order to earn those clients. Just wanting to work with meteoric start-ups isn’t enough — you have to have the skills, experience and contacts to earn those clients. Once you’ve done the exercise you describe here — then you can look at what might need to be different about your company in order to earn those ideal clients.

    Very helpful John!

  • Thanks, John…knowing who is a great prospect helps focus our efforts in the right direction. We’re proud of every single client relationship. Every business has a sweet spot; with experience, we can all hone our focus.

  • Yup, thank you for writing this article, enjoyed reading this one. All clients are ideal, but then maybe doing these things might actually helps you a lot… choosing exactly who you want to work with.

  • right. that is main problem for new beginner marketer like me, Idea is one important thing to build the customer loyalty. thank you 🙂

  • brentmkelly

    Super post John! I just published a new blog post with a similar theme as I was thinking about my experiences. You have hit it head on. I think the best part was that behavior types are as important as demographics. So true.

  • Sherri Garrity

    I am so happy to hear you evangelize this. When I work with my clients, I always spend a lot of time on WHO they want to work with, and HOW they work together the best. It only makes sense to me that if you are going to create your own business, you may as well design it to fit you – and just like real estate, there’s a buyer and a seller that are perfectly destined for each other.

  • Maria Reyes-McDavis

    Super insight John, you are so on-point (as usual). I have my clients do the same type of “people-you-don’t-want-to-work-with” profiles. Understanding what you do want can best be described by what you don’t.

  • Damayanthi Jayasinghe

    Very interesting and valid point John. When you get clients who sucks all your energy, you will not be able to work with the people who deserve your time and attention.

    I first learned this from Michael Port in his book Book Yourself Solid, one of the early chapters he explains how we should have red velvet rope policy where you only serve the people who are looking for you and meant to serve.

    Saying that the truth is, (at least for me) I tend to ignore my gut feelings and try to be “nice” sometimes and it certainly come back to bite me.

    Thanks for the reminder.


  • I don’t think the “pick your customers” and demographics schools of thought have to be opposed. Why not pick your customers and use demographics to find out where they hang out and what their concerns and needs are. Then you can target your message to them.