Who are Your Customers?

The title of this column might seem like a pretty basic question, but it’s not — at least not to me. You may think you know your customers very well. In fact, you might know them very well, but I want you to think about them in a new way that will allow you to serve them better and make more money. 

I think about the question — Who are your customers? — a lot. But about 15 years ago, I started thinking about it very differently.

I had just started an editorial job with one of the major outdoor sports publishers. For the first couple of days, I sat in my new boss’ office, listened to him talk about the job and fought to stay awake. l took notes about schedules and deadlines and editorial procedures, but it was one question and an unexpected answer that ended up being my big takeaway from those meetings.

Early in the orientation process, he asked what I thought was a pretty basic and straightforward question: “Who are our readers?”

I’m not the president of the local Mensa chapter, but I thought I could knock that one out of the park.

“Anglers and hunters interested in learning more about their sports,” I said.

I probably nodded, too — just to show him that I totally got it and that the question might be a little too basic for someone like me, who dominated his ninth grade spelling bee. Clearly he had underestimated my mental agility.

“No,” he said. “Our readers are people who buy hunting and fishing magazines.”

That answer hit me pretty hard, and it’s stuck with me since. Of course he was right … and I was wrong. I may not have been far off the mark, but I had certainly missed it and as soon as he gave me the answer I realized that. Instead of “over-thinking” the question, I had “under-thought” it. I had broken it down too far, made it too complex and come up short. I didn’t miss it much, but sometimes even a small miscalculation can have big negative effects. Imagine a rocket missing the moon by one degree — it would be thousands of miles off-course.

Is your retail shop just slightly off-course? Have you under-thought your customer base? If I were to ask you who your customers are, would you say something like, “They’re anglers who want to catch fish in this area?”

I ask because I think that answer is wrong … or at least incomplete.

I think a better answer is this:

They’re anglers and wannabe anglers and friends and loved ones of anglers and wannabe anglers who buy fishing tackle and want to learn more about the fish, the waters and the angling opportunities in the area.

You might fine-tune my answer a little, but I’m confident that it’s a better response to the question than the first reply.

And if you agree, it’s time to break that answer down and to think about how you’re serving that potential customer base because it’s probably a lot larger, more diverse and more complicated than the group you’re currently serving. They also have a lot more money. If you want your share, now is a good time to get on-course.

Since you’ve read this far, I’m going to ask one more thing of you. Use the comments area below to share something with the rest of us. Tell us what you are doing (or what you plan to do) to appeal to that larger base. And if you think I’m wrong, you can post that, too. Just be ready to back it up and convince me that I’m wrong.

I really want to hear from you. I want us to use this platform to help grow our sport. And I know that your ideas and experiences will be invaluable in that effort.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.