The very basics of business demand that you know your target customer before you can market and sell to them. The reality, though, is that we often start with one customer in mind and find through trial and error that, in fact, the details are different than we imagined.

That was the case for the online beauty retailer Birchbox. Birchbox helped pioneer the subscription-based business model over a decade ago with their monthly shipments of curated beauty products in artful packages. The magic for customers happens when they open the package and discover things they didn't know existed or never knew they wanted.

Like all thoughtful start-ups, Birchbox began with an ideal customer in mind. As they started selling and people started buying, two broad types of customers emerged -- one-time tryers and long-term buyers. The newness of Birchbox's approach and the low-price entry point ($10 per month) generated enough curiosity to bump up sales. A couple of years into running the business, Birchbox wanted to better understand the customer characteristics among those who stuck around.

In order to grow their business, Birchbox wanted to better understand these long-term buyers and deepen their relationship with this important customer base. With the new business experience and customer data they had, they were now better able see that ideal customer profile more clearly and in greater detail.

They poured over data and asked employees to share first-hand experiences they'd had with customers. They analyzed this new information in order to go from a fuzzy target to a clear picture of exactly who they wanted to reach.

When they had this clearer picture, they circulated this newly refined customer profile among all staff in all departments across the business. Each unit was challenged to think about how they were operating and what assumptions they'd made about their ideal customers. From that analysis, they looked for ways to change their operations to better attract and serve this fresh picture of their ideal customer, instead of the outdated image they had been working with since the start of the company.

Embedded within Birchbox's challenge and approach are useful ideas for all of us. If you've been in business for some time and are looking to grow, you should consider analyzing your sales and customer data with an eye towards clarifying and refreshing the image of your ideal customer. The reality is that culture and trends change rapidly, so, naturally, your ideal customer profile will change over the years. Refreshing that customer profile is another way of staying relevant.

Based on your analysis, you might like what you see, or you might see an opportunity to shift and target a different segment altogether. Either way, the clarity gained is a big leg up in growing your business.