Let’s assume that you have an amazing idea for a new business. Your technology is first-rate, and your product or service offering is faster, better, and cheaper than anything currently available. But without a clear understanding of who will benefit from it, how they research new offerings and where they buy, you might not reach your target customers.
Understanding your target customer tells you not only where to put your marketing dollars but also how to shape the tone and content of your communication—and how to approach creating a critical mass of users.
For business-to-consumer (B2C) enterprises, this is relatively straightforward: Identify the target audience, and research their buying habits. However, companies that sell business to business (B2B) need to have two audiences in mind: the end users of the product or service and the decision makers who choose whether it will be available to those users. For marketing and sales purposes, the latter are who B2B companies should be most concerned with, while product or service development concentrates on the former.
No matter what technology or product you’re introducing, remember that it cannot be all things to all people. This is particularly true with a B2B offering, where your service or product is likely to be narrowly targeted. Success is more likely to come from figuring out which businesses would understand your product or service and recognize the most value in using it.
Here are a few steps to take to learn who your customers are:
Build your network
Begin by creating a network of trusted advisers, whether through existing contacts in the entrepreneurial space, local networking events, or other avenues. These should be people who will be brutally honest with you about the potential of your service or product. These advisers can also be your first introduction to market research. Ask them how your product or service compares to others in the marketplace. Would they buy? Why or why not? What, if anything, would convince them to try your service or product? Listen carefully, and make tweaks accordingly.
Identify early adopters
The next logical step is to identify early adopters, who may be the people already in your network. These are the people who are willing to try a new product or service and relay their feedback. Consider offering a steep discount or a certain time period for free to incentivize them. In exchange for the discount or free trial, seek their permission to use their experience as a case study for your future marketing efforts.
This initial group of customers will need to be supported well—not only to make sure they understand and get maximum value from your product or service, but also to show its real-life applications so you can learn its proof points and your value story. Be willing to learn from this initial pilot group, and use that information to better recognize the types of people who will benefit from your offering. Your test customers could be the best source of market research available to you.
Get feedback from test customers
Work with your early adopters to start a feedback loop. To get the most value, you may need managers who are dedicated to servicing these accounts and carefully learning what the users—and the purchasers—value. Have them dig into what the users and purchasers are struggling with as well. Identify any roadblocks that are affecting not just the user experience but also the management experience and the decision-making process for buying the product or service in the first place and for renewing the initial purchase.
Dig into personas
Once you identify the value stories from your test customers, you can begin to identify groups of potential customers. These groups may be determined by industry verticals, end application or use cases, business processes, and so on. These groupings, coupled with the knowledge of these customers’ decision-making processes, will help you create B2B marketing personas. These are useful tools for understanding exactly who you want to talk to, what kind of messaging they best respond to, and all their unique circumstances that make them your target customer. Creating marketing personas can be especially useful in B2B marketing, as those purchasing decisions tend to be more complex and have multiple decision makers involved at each company. Ensure that everyone on your team has an aligned understanding of these personas and why they’re the people you want to reach.
As you understand more and more about your target customer and the purchasers, you’ll inevitably find better ways to communicate, more efficient marketing channels, and more compelling offers to make.
It’s worth doing your homework
Successfully launching a new business can require far more than a great product or service. It can be critically important to find the right target market, understand what motivates your target customers, craft your sales and marketing messages to appeal to them, and develop a relationship that allows you to consistently improve your offering over time.
Be selective when doing this for a B2B company, as you often need to speak to exactly the right people up front—otherwise, you may end up on a wild goose chase for the decision maker you’re supposed to wow with your pitch. If you get into the nitty-gritty right away, you can streamline the process and achieve business success all the more efficiently.
This article originally appeared in Forbes. View it here.