Imagine the Customer

Guest Blogger – Marilyn Schlake, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Niche businesses operate within a sliver of the market. They are built around the unique needs of a narrowly defined customer base.  This niche is too small for the big companies to pursue, thus leaving room for the small business to operate and grow.  As with a large business, the questions are still the same — is the niche market large enough to make a profit, are the customers accessible, and is the market growing fast enough?  How do you know? Like the big companies, you need to do your research and get out there and talk to your customers.  

Close your eyes for a minute and visualize of your customer. What does she look like? What does she wear? What does she do for employment? What does she think? What problems does she encounter daily?  Who are her friends? If you don’t know your customers inside and out, you may be missing out on opportunities to expand your market and create long-lasting relationships. Furthermore, if your staff doesn’t know the customers, their wants, needs and expectations, how are they able to help grow your business?

Along with the questions asked in my earlier post (,  you also need to focus on better understanding your customers’ environment, influences, and aspirations.  

  • Who does your customer interact with on a daily basis?
  • What are their influencers saying, wanting them to do?
  • What media influences their decisions?
  • What is important to them? What are their values?
  • What do they worry and think about?
  • What other types of products do they use?

If asking customers these personal questions is uncomfortable, then take the first step and make a guess. Test your understanding by reading, observing and having casual conversations with your customer.  Ideally you will have a picture, drawing or collage that depicts your customers and outlines their key commonalities.  Share this with your staff and modify it as your customers become more defined. 

Sources:  Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur (2009), Business Model Generation.

Photo credit: Adactio, Flickr, Creative Commons license

This entry was posted in business planning, ETC, niche, planning by gmuske. Bookmark the permalink.

About gmuske

Glenn Muske believes in rural, small businesses as the cornerstone of a strong economy. His current efforts, as his own boss, focuses on helping those business owner achieving success. Previously, he did this for North Dakota State University Extension Service and Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

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