Three customers walk into a store…

Profiling for Maximum sales

Three customers step into your store. One’s brought a few magazine clippings. He’s interested, engaged in the shopping experience, talking to your staff, taking notes. He knows quite a bit about what you sell from the minute he walks in (or clicks on the link to your website).

One’s strolling around, looking at a bit of everything, familiarizing himself. Right away he says “just looking” when your friendly staff steps in to guide him. He spends much longer than your average customer in the store (or on the site).

The last customer walks in head down. He looks around quickly, sees the sign for the department he’s interested in, and beelines over there with seemingly no interest in the store at all. If the staff tries to help, they get a gruff “no thanks.”

Who’s really your Ideal Customer?

This week, Experience Design 201: a special series on profiling your customers to increase your sales.

Speaking to the right people

We’ve talked before about narrowing your Ideal Customer down to one, exact person you can speak to in your store layout, your marketing materials, and your website. As your intrepid Experience Designer, I’m here to remind you: to deliver delight to the Ideal Customer, you can’t talk to everyone.

Say you’re an expert in small animal care and you decide to run a website. You can aim everything from your colors to your layout to your language to your advertising, at an eight-year-old trying to learn more for a school project, hoping later to convince Mom to buy him a ferret; you can take crystal-clear aim at 23-year-old guys with pythons, wanting accessories and cool reptile-related clothing; or you can plan to attract little old ladies who want advice on saving money by grooming their pets themselves.

You’re still that same expert in small animal care, yet we’ve just created three wildly different sites for you, because you know exactly who you’re talking to in every way. You can do the exact same thing for three retail shop designs, as well—and a half a dozen others, just as distinct—without changing who you are and what you want to do in your business at all.

None of those folks are going to walk in to the store aimed at the other guys. Not ever. Some authors call this creating a persona, but here at MCE we skip the jargon and call this your Ideal Customer. Knowing your Ideal Customer is a long way from the old “target market,” a way of segmenting folks into age groups, genders, geographic regions, and income levels. Now with your exact Ideal Customer defined, you will never send a postcard to the young, single exec living in a new condo development next to the lady who downsized when her husband died, even though they live in the same area and have similar incomes. You know their needs go a lot deeper than this.

Experience Design 201: Advanced techniques for delighted customers

But suppose three “ideal” customers walk in (or arrive at the website) at the same time? Three python-lovers, three kids with their Moms in tow, or three ladies who own parrots? Who will buy? Who will—dare I say it—yank your chain? Who will be your biggest fan and spread the word for you, far and wide?

We need more. We need to know their buying profiles: in other words, what brought them here today. Now. How do we keep ‘em, do we want ‘em, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with these different prospective customers?

When you know how to profile the buying needs of your Ideal Customer, you’ll have a path to turbo-charging your sales that will guide everything from how you arrange your floorplan to how you write your blog.

Part One: RH, the Red Herring

There he is, with those magazine clippings. He’s educated about your product. He loves talking to you, emailing you, getting down to the details of what you offer.

I thought we’d talk about RH first because, gosh, he’s so much fun. He wants what you have. He knows all about it, but he’s still curious. You and your staff enjoy selling to him.

But it seems to take him a few trips to the store…

Or he abandons his shopping cart online, only to return a few days later…

You’ve emailed back and forth for weeks without a commitment to work together…

Hey, what’s going on?

RH doesn’t need you.

He’s only at the “want” stage. RH is a classic window shopper,* or comparison shopper. He walks out because he’s off to see what your competition’s got. He’ll never tell you that, of course, because each of you is contributing to his bank of knowledge so he can know everything there is to know before he buys.

He’s “shopping” for a future need, and that makes RH the most dangerous customer in the store. He’s the fish you thought you had hooked, but you never did. He may even make you work like a dog to earn his money, then drop you at the last second. He’s not only not loyal, he’s definitely playing you right now.

Yes. He’s talking to other companies in the same sweet tones he uses with you. It’s true.

Here’s how you know it’s true, dear reader:

You’ve done it yourself.

We all have. The thing about these profiles is that for different products, at different times, we’ll all fall into one profile or another. You’ve gone to an open house when you weren’t ready to move houses; you’ve spent 20 minutes with your local electronics guru just because you heard LCD screen were on their way out and you wanted to know what’s next, for when your tax return comes in next May; you’ve spent hours at your favorite band’s MySpace page without ever buying their new CD, seeing their world tour, or replacing the t-shirt you got from them in 1998. Yes, I know you have. You’ve been the Red Herring, just as I have: the staff time-suck who seems oh-so-informed, polite, and interested. You are interested, but you’re only at that “want” stage. If you’re a bit farther along, you might be at the “trying to convince yourself into a need” stage.

What can we do about the red herring?

Changing “future need” to “now need”:

It can be done. RH can be won over by a super-bargain, but slashing prices to grab this customer in a tough way to make sales.

Catching his eye:

Frequent links to your products or services within the text of your site. RH is not patient enough to figure your site out for you. To hook this slippery fish you’ll need to be at the ready wherever his eye lands.

Sales, Clearances, and Special Offers—online, in ads, in-store. Make ‘em so prominent that your designer screams for artistic mercy. If RH can’t see ‘em, he can’t be moved by ‘em.


No. Won’t remember you in five minutes.

Designing Maximum Customer Experience for RH involves:

Catching him off balance. Unexpected “wow” factor that pushes him over the edge.


The dreaded deep discount.


There are a lot of Red Herrings in the world. If you’ve got the patience to woo him, if you’ve got the Wow factor in place, or if you’re willing to make him an offer that moves “future” to “why not now?” you’ll have a big advantage over the other poor saps he’s playing.


RH is a chain-yanker. Time, money, and heart wasted, with no sure sale ahead. Need I say more?

Best bet:

Stay tuned for the second installment in Experience Design 201. In the meantime: be nice, be helpful, be clear about what you offer and why you’re the best choice, but don’t waste your heart’s efforts on RH.

Recognize the Red Herring? Is it you, or your customers?  😉

What do you do to move RH’s “future need” to “now”?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*In French, which I’ve been trying to wrap my tongue around for the last year or so, to go window-shopping is faire du lèche-vitrine, which translates to “to do some window-licking.” Eeew. But I never had any problem remembering that phrase! (Just thought I’d share.)