One of the most important things you can ever do in business is simple - know who it is you're selling to.  Ask any established company who their customer is and you'll get an answer - but not necessarily the right one.

Companies forget their customer all the time!  Great companies usually don't, but if you serve hundreds or thousands of clients in a year, you can usually afford to make a mistake or two.

Not so for the small business owner or entrepreneur.  You have to know, every day, who it is your serving and how they expect to be served - and you have to serve all three customers!

Wait ... what?

Yes - all three customers.

See, any business has three types of customers:  the ones you're specifically marketing to get, the ones that just show up, and, ultimately, the one you'll sell the company to at some point (more on that later).

Let's look at all of them.

That first group - the group you're actively marketing for - they may or may not be return customers or they may not be frequent customers, but something you do perfectly brings them to you.   Your reputation, your ambiance, or your skillset all sell them before they walk in the door and the costs to acquire and keep these customers is actually very low.  They know, like, and trust you and once they have had a good customer experience, they don't cost much to keep.

Have you ever seen a Chik-fil-a parking lot at lunchtime?  It's not filled because Chik-fil-a is inexpensive, nor is it filled because they have a playground for children.  It's filled because those customers know exactly what they are getting and the marketing to keep them happy is minimal.

They don't stay open late, they aren't open on Sunday, they don't have a "dollar menu," and they don't apologize to non-customers for the way they run the company.

The regular customer at Chik-fil-a knows exactly what they are getting and they get it.  Period.  No marketing needed.

On the other hand is the irregular customer.  They might see that filled parking lot and opt for a different lunch option.  They may only decide to go on a special occasion due to the higher costs.  Perhaps they have a coupon.  This group needs to be marketed to and then, the actual buying experience has to be perfect.  Interactions with staff, a quality product, and an environment that reinforces why this company is better than other options.

Your irregular customer is the one that most of your advertising is designed to capture.

...And it's not just about restaurants or food, either.  Think about a specialized tool or software that a company might need.  They can get by doing it the way they have always done it, but at some point, they just might decide to upgrade.  When they start seeking the solutions that you can offer, your company has to perform - the marketing will get them to you, but their interactions with you and your team, training, fulfillment, and all need to ensure their experience is a great one.

Regular clients may keep the bills paid, but irregular clients let you grow.

Especially when you make those irregulars into regulars.

Now, let's talk about that last group of customers.

There's really only one, and that customer is the one that is going to ultimately buy your business.

How do you get them?

Marketing may get them in the door, but the same reasons that your regular customers come back again and again are the reasons that drive someone to buy your company - you have systems in place to ensure that the client experience is exceptional from the first time they hear about you until they quit needing to use your product.  Nothing is left to chance because you can show exactly how everything works.  Hiring?  Check.  Training?  Check.  Follow up?  Check.  Fulfillment?  Check.  Payroll?  Check.

And so on, And so on.

Think I'd being silly?  Look at businesses for sale around you and the vast differences in the asking prices.   A one-person store doesn't cost as much as a fully developed and documented franchise, does it?

Why?  When one buys a franchise, you are buying a system.  When you buy a solopreneur's "dream," you're buying a filing cabinet filled with paperwork that might never have been looked at since it was crammed into that cabinet.

Build your own company to know and acknowledge your customer(s) and you'll serve all three groups of them - and serve yourself with a smarter business plan!