Market Snapshot


You probably have a good idea of who your existing customers are, their similarities, needs, etc. Future customers, on the other hand, may have unique needs that require a new approach in order to get them to buy your products. In a recent article by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the author maps out 12 different customer profiles. In each of the 12 descriptions below, the author indicates a "customer tip-off"-what a customer might say to you—and a "conversation starter"—the appropriate response recommended by the author.

A customer is standing in front of you. Maybe he has a question or a complaint. Or maybe he is thinking about a purchase and wants to discuss a product issue. What do you say to best serve the customer and bring about a win-win resolution of the conversation?

Sounds like a simple question, huh? But the fact is that many customers have their own conversational temperaments and preferences. How you speak with your customer is often more important than what you say.

How do you engage your customer in the right conversation? First and foremost, listen carefully, and you'll learn which core need he wants met. Then you can build your conversation around that need.

Here are 12 of the most common core needs you'll observe in your customers:

1. The boss. This customer wants to be in charge. He  wants things done his way. Customer tip-off:  "Mr. Jones, about this widget... I need to have three things happen this afternoon." Conversation starter: Imagine he is a respected supervisor. Speak deferentially. Ask questions to be sure you understand his problem. Make notes if necessary.

2. The competitor. The customer is checking around to see what he can get from the competition. He will spare no effort to identify the "best deal." Customer tip-off: "Give me a few days to consider this package." Conversation starter: Reiterate what makes your service unique or valued, or offer a small incentive for an immediate decision.

3. The explorer. This customer may not even be certain he wants to buy or obtain service, but a minor incident convinced him to get in touch with you. Customer tip-off: "I noticed that my widget seems to get very warm after I plug it in." Conversation starter: Invite your customer to disclose any possible questions or concerns. If authentic problems are suggested, offer guidance or repair. If not, provide reassurance; that's often satisfaction enough.

4. The miser. If the customer is buying a product or a post-purchase service, he is out to save every possible nickel. Customer tip-off: "If you come to service the widgets on your own schedule, can I save some money?" Conversation starter: Bring the conversation around to the value of your product and your service. Remind your customer that he is making an investment.

5. The negotiator. He believes hard negotiation is the key to just about every successful business transaction. Customer tip-off: "Let me propose this: You handle this problem for me and then throw in four months worth of supplies." Conversation starter: This customer wants to negotiate, so negotiate. For example, you could say something like "I want you to begin this very important service program, so let me give you a package of sampler supplies and a 10% coupon for your next call."

6. The novice. He has had little or no experience with your product or business. Yet he's on your doorstep with a seeming willingness to buy or seek assistance. Customer tip-off: "Can you tell me about these new widgets that I'm hearing about?" Conversation starter: Ask a few questions to determine the extent of your customer's knowledge. If it's low, provide him with a simple tutorial. For example, say something such as, "Let me tell you about four important things you should know about this widget product."

7. The preacher. Almost evangelical in his tone, this customer has firmly-and quickly expressed-opinions about sellers, quality or your product. He'll want to spend time expounding on his views. Customer tip-off: "Every single time I have bought a widget over the last five years, I have the same problems." Conversation starter: This customer requires extra careful listening. Don't hesitate to agree where the facts are clear, but your most important role is to empathize with your customer. Statements such as, "I'm beginning to understand what you're saying" or "It sounds like you are very angry" can help. Once you get beyond the opinion and the emotion, you can address the issues at hand.

8. The researcher. He wants to gather information about his prospective purchase or his post-purchase problem in a studious, almost academic fashion. Customer tip-off: "I have some questions about this widget." He may even have a notebook in his hand. Conversation starter: Listen carefully to his questions. Ponder your answers. If you're not certain about a point, or want the opportunity to continue the conversation later, indicate that you'll research the answer and get back to him.

9. The sampler. This is the classic kick-the-tires customer. He wants to try and test. Customer tip-off:  "Do you have a demo widget that I can use for 10 or 15 minutes?" Conversation starter: If you can make a test possible, offer to assist your customer. If not, redirect the conversation to your guarantees or top-notch service.

10. The skeptic. This customer doesn't take advertising or product claims at face value. The result is often a stream of pointed, sometimes trivial questions. Customer tip-off: "So tell me again where this was manufactured." Conversation starter: Help your customer make a priority list of truly important product qualities or issues and focus his attention on the top priorities. If your product or service is known for one or two key strengths, bring the conversation back to those strengths time and again.

11. The socializer. This customer likes to buy and even looks forward to seeking customer service. Customer tip-off: "What a beautiful necktie, Mr. Jones. Was that a gift?" Conversation starter: This customer wants a personal relationship. Engage in chitchat. You're not wasting time talking about the weather, your children or your customer's weekend plans.

12. The speed demon. Whether he's got many things on her mind, children in tow or adhering to a tight schedule, this customer is in a hurry. Customer tip-off: "I hope you can help me quickly." Or you will notice his anxiously tapping his foot or appearing slightly agitated. Conversation starter: Brisk, authoritative, but friendly tone of voice. Fast answers to first questions. If asked, he wants genuine assurance that you'll address his need quickly.

Source: The National Federation of Independent Businesses. (May 9, 2007). "Know Your Customer." Retrieved May 21, 2007 from