How to Hear a Who

How to Hear a Who

What is the simple and startling change in perspective that is critical to promoting your small business on the Internet today?

Stop focusing on what you are selling.  Start focusing on who you are selling it to.

Back in 1996, around the dawn of the Internet, I read a groundbreaking book titled, The One to One Future, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. They predicted evolving information technology would make the marketing of products (the what) obsolete. Instead the primary function of business would be finding new customers (the who) and exchanging information with them.

At the time, I thought this was an interesting concept, although I doubted it could work.  Yet here we are, almost 20 years later, and that is exactly what business owners must do if they are to succeed.


As small business owners, we all have a product or a service we are passionate about. If we are to succeed, that product or service has to fill a need or solve a problem for our customers. Succeeding also requires us to get our story in front of as many people as possible.

Today, the Internet is the best way to do that. In the U S alone, there were more than 277 million people on the Internet as of March 2014. That is a staggering 82% of the U S population.

What would happen if you converted just one thousandth of one percent of those internet users into customers?

You would generate 2700 new customers a year.

The challenge is to figure out WHO of those 277 million people you need to attract. How do you do that?

The answer is, ask questions. Then, listen carefully to the answers.

Then develop buyer personas. A buyer persona profiles a fictional character representing your ideal customer or user. But, the persona is not a single person. Instead, the persona represents the combined goals and behaviors of a group of users.

The profile can be as simple as asking 4 or 5 questions, or it can run into many pages.


The answer is to start with the easy stuff. Sit down, close your eyes, and answer the following questions about your ideal customer:

  1. Male, Female, or both? (If both you may want to develop one persona for each sex.)
  2. Age range?
  3. Where do they live?
  4. What is their probable income range?
  5. What is their profession?
  6. What are their hobbies?
  7. What types of organizations do they belong to?
  8. What problem will your product or service solve for them?
  9. What is their “pain” point?
  10. What kind of questions do they ask when trying to solve their problem?
  11. What emotions does purchasing your product or service involve?


Here is the simple truth. People buy on emotion. Then they back up that decision with logic.

Your challenge is discovering which emotions you should appeal to. I know this sounds manipulative, but it’s not. It’s plain salesmanship that’s been around for the last 3000 or so years.

So, let’s take emotions a bit further.

Go back to #8 on the list above. What problem does your product or service solve?

Now use your imagination and answer this question: How will the customer feel after they buy from you? List the feelings.

You now have the key. Design your information to appeal to the feelings your customer will have when you solve their problem.

It all comes down to this: I can solve your problems and make you feel better in the process.


Yes and no. Remember Murphy’s First Law. Nothing is as easy as it looks.

You can’t stop with your list of imaginary questions. We all come to our business with preconceived ideas of what our product or service will do for people. Guess what? Some of those ideas are probably wrong.

Why not just ask our customers what they want? Here are several ways to do this:

  1. Either before the sale or after, ask them what they liked. Ask how they would improve the product or service.
  2. If you have an email list, send a survey.
  3. Do A/B testing. For instance publish a piece with two different headlines. Which got the better response? You can also do this with frequency of publishing.
  4. Use Google’s keyword suggest tool (provide link) to see how visitors best describe their problem. Make sure you use those keywords in your website and blogs.
  5. Study your competition. See what issues and solutions they feature in their websites and case studies.


Asking questions is actually only half of the solution. Listening is the other half. If we listen carefully to what our potential customers have to say, they will tell us how they want to be sold. This is a never-ending process.

Keep good notes. Keep adding to your buyer persona profiles. Keep refining the messages to address your potential customers’ needs, and watch your business soar.

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