Ever had to buy a gift for someone you didn't really know but really had to impress? Think bosses and in-laws. Choosing items for these people is generally challenging because, unlike a best friend, you don't know their tastes, sizes, allergies, and restrictions.

In many ways, pitching someone in a sales email is a lot like shopping for your boss or in-laws: you want to impress your potential customer with the benefits your company can offer. But how can you be sure you're selling the right features and benefits to that person? The answer is, by getting to know your customer like you would your best friend.

To do this, you need to create a profile for your ideal customer that includes as much detail as possible--their demographics, interests, challenges, business objectives, industry, job title, key competitors, recent activity, and anything else you can find. This is called a buyer persona, and it's one of the best techniques you have as a salesperson when it comes to better understanding your customer.

Not sure where to start? Follow these three steps to start learning about your current customer, ideal customer, and the ones you want to avoid.

1. Compile research and data to understand your current customer.

If you already have customers, gather data about them to build buyer personas. Separate the data into categories, such as demographics, industries, departments, challenges you could solve and overall business objectives.

If you don't have any data on your customers, it's time to prioritize getting some. Start with a basic data analytics tool, and also mine the information in customer surveys and social media platforms. Watch the news to see changes in your prospective customer's industry that would drastically affect their work, for better or worse.

Next, determine which categories are most important for your business. For example, if you've developed an accounting tool that can serve any finance department in any small business, you don't need to focus so much on specific industries as you do company size.

If you don't have customers yet, research your competition and find out who their customers are. You may not get as much data, but it's a great start.

2.   Analyze your current customer to develop the profile of your ideal buyer.

As you evaluate your current customer, decide what characteristics you want to add or change. Say, for example, your current customers are Marketers, but you believe your service is also relevant to Sales. In this case, create multiple buyer personas, like Vice President of Sales or Director of Marketing.

Don't go overboard, though, and create a profile for every employee in the potential customer's department.  Focus on a few, such as those that offer the highest value or whose business challenges could most use your product or service. Expand as you acquire more customers and data.

3. Create a "negative" buyer persona to understand who you don't want.

Knowing your ideal buyer is important, but it's just as crucial to understand who you don't want to work with or who would be a bad fit.

Determine the traits of customers you want to exclude, such as those who will cost too much time or money to acquire, have business objectives and systems that don't align with yours, or are just plain hard to work with.

For example, if a business works exclusively with an IT systems provider that is incompatible with your product, wait until their provider or your product changes to pursue them seriously.

You may be tempted to write off any potential customer that doesn't fit your ideal buyer persona. But remember, you only started with a few profiles. As you expand your business and add additional buyer personas, your customer base will expand. At that point, you'll want to have separated the customers you want to work with from the ones you want to avoid.

How do you go about finding your ideal customer? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!