By Maria Geokezas, account director for Heinz Marketing

Every successful business person will tell you that understanding your customer is the key to a successful business. When you’ve developed a precise and unique customer profile it will carry through to your marketing and sales plan, customer acquisition and loyalty strategy as well as the campaigns you execute.

Even when putting together a one-off event, or crafting a simple email, you have to start with the customer in mind in order for those efforts to be effective.

Customer profiles help you and your marketing team focus on the person consuming your product or service. Depending on the type and size of your business, you may have one customer profile or several. Harley-Davidson, for example, identified 17 unique customer personas that guided their product development, marketing and sales efforts.

A good customer profile ensures that your list building strategy is on target, your messaging is relevant and your offer will elicit response. Here are three components of a solid customer profile:

1. Go beyond the basic firmographics
Obviously, basic targeting characteristics are essential to understanding the ideal customer for your product or service. Your strategy, messaging, channels and budget will differ if you are targeting managers in Human Resource departments of multi-national enterprises versus Vice Presidents of HR of small professional service firms in the Pacific Northwest.

2. Get to know where they live
Paint a picture of your ideal customer by describing their work environment. Describe the pressures they face, their pain points and priorities. Understand the decision-making process they go through. How painful does it have to get before they go searching for a solution? Do they have approval authority or do they need to influence another decision maker? If you can figure out what keeps them up at night, and how they make decisions, you have a good start to your marketing plan.

3. Bring your profile to life
Give your profile a name and build a story about how this customer uses your product (or category of product) and how they interact with your brand. Capture their attitude about the offering. Use language that they would use if they were telling the story to a friend. Bringing in this level of customer insight will add feeling of familiarity to your communications.

Much of this information will be uncovered through customer surveys. However, in-person or phone interviews with internal stakeholders and customers will be incredibly valuable in creating a more robust description of the customer’s psyche and motivations.

The first step is to gain the perspective of stakeholders inside the company that have direct contact with customers and potential customers. Get input from those who sell to the customer as well as those who service the customer after the sale is made.

Combined, these two perspectives will help you develop a better customer interview, allowing you to dig deeper, uncover more specific insights and ensure that your customer profile is an active part of your marketing strategy.

After several customer interviews have been completed, review your list of questions and answers, to determine if you need to revise your interview script or delve deeper into a certain area. Once the interviews are completed, compile them into your profiles. Keep in mind, this is more of an art than a science.

For a list of sample customer interview questions click here.