The Myth Of The Ideal Client

By October 25, 2013 November 5th, 2014 Marketing Insights & Strategy
The Myth Of The Ideal Client

One of the first things a marketer will tell you to do as you embark on your business journey is to spend some time creating a picture of your “ideal client”.

Who is this person? What do they do? What do they want? What keeps them up at night? Do they like ketchup or mayo on their fries?

You’re encouraged to create as complete a picture of this perfect person as you can. This will be the go-to image that you’ll use to measure your prospects against whenever you need to decide who to do business with and who to send on their merry way to a competitor.

The problem with the ideal client is right there in the name – ideal.

“Perfect people”.

How many times have you heard that one? Follow your passion and find your perfect people.

That’s nice if we’re all sitting around singing Kumbaya, but take it from someone who has been in the business of marketing for 15 years and the business of people for 22: there is no such thing as perfect.

Here are a few of the problems with this magical thinking and a few ways you might want to think about your “people” instead.

Your Ideal Doesn’t Exist

Are you married? Coupled up? Ever been on a date?

Then you know that somewhere along the line you probably had a vision of who you wanted to be with. Someone honest. Trustworthy. Funny. Adventurous. Someone who picks up their socks off the floor on a regular basis or cleans out the garage without being asked. Someone who likes long walks on the beach and banana splits.

And then you met Reality.

Reality is maybe you pick up the socks, and learn to put “clean out garage” on the calendar once a year.

Reality is maybe you stay home and watch reruns of Lost on Netflix instead of skydiving.

That doesn’t mean you’re unhappy, it just means that you got real about the person you’re with.

Your clients are much the same. People. Never perfect.

Losing Sight Of Reality = Frustration

Have you ever had a conversation with a client and hung up the phone or left the room thinking, “I wish this person was a little more patient/listened to my ideas/didn’t complain so much/paid my invoices on time?”

In an imperfect world full of imperfect people, we have to remember not to get so caught up in our ideals that we lose sight of what’s in front of us. The more we focus on ideal people, the less we like the real ones.

I have a client who I love, who is clear about his objectives, reasonable about paying us, on board with my suggestions. Except every time he calls he likes to chat and I know it’s going to be a half hour conversation about non-work related stuff.

Instead of getting frustrated or worse, putting him off until he went away (possibly to a competitor) I learned to take a breath and settle in for a half hour of conversation. I discovered it could be rather entertaining. Is it ideal, to be sitting on the phone making no money and talking about summer vacations? No, but imagine what I might have lost if I’d insisted only on ideal.

You Avoid Or Miss Opportunities

Before we began developing in WordPress at my company, we were very Microsoft-centric. We developed a lot in .NET and similar languages for clients who needed content management.

Those smaller clients with simpler needs were not ideal for us and when the first few WordPress opportunities came along we took a “no way” approach.

At some point I decided to take a look at this WordPress thing.

And do you know what I discovered? It was the perfect opportunity to service clients with less complex needs, for less money, in a shorter amount of time.

Now we do a ton of WordPress work and we still do custom programming outside of WordPress for larger scale content management projects.

No friction means no growth and if you fixate on ideals, you can miss opportunities to fill gaps in your business. Sometimes you have to step out of the boundaries you’ve given yourself and try something new.

Sometimes It’s Good Enough To Get The Check

You aren’t going to be in love with every client you work with. If you have the time to spend looking for those people and the money to live while you do, then good for you.

Most of us just need to eat.

Sometimes when we look for these perfect people, we attach all sorts of emotional qualities to the process. We create a wish list of what we want in a person – that perfect person who we want to have a beer with, who has a certain lifestyle and a very specific way of behaving.

But those kinds of people are called friends.

Call one up. Have a beer.

When it comes to business, who is going to pay the bills?

Sometimes we get projects that I love with people who I enjoy. But sometimes we get projects that are… er… less entertaining and more work, much like the clients who bring them. Sometimes, I want to jump out a window and abscond to a deserted island with a lot of cupcakes and forget these people exist.

But that’s about me, not about them. And ultimately we’re in the business of servicing – not perfect people, but people. Sometimes our business is not about us but about those imperfect people we claim to serve.

If we can perform a job well, make the client happy and get paid… I’m surely not going to pull out my “ideal client” checklist and argue the point. How about you?

The Difference Between Buyer Personas And Ideal Clients

Often when you hear the words “ideal client” or “perfect people”, someone literally wants you to invent a person with all of the qualities that you want most in a client.

But chances are you didn’t add “and sometimes yells at me” to your list of personality traits. The problem is that those things will happen. People are complex. Their business needs are complex. You’ll never nail down all the nuances.

But that doesn’t mean you should go out and start selling haphazardly to just anyone. That’s where your buyer personas come in – traits that your clients exhibit that relate directly to what you’re offering.

It’s a problem-solution scenario instead of an exercise in fiction. Instead of thinking about who you want to work with, you start to think about who would want to work with you – and more importantly, why.

What do they need? What are their challenges and how can you provide the answers they’re looking for?

You can add details about socio-economic status and lifestyles here, too, because those things will affect how much someone can afford, what their disposition is toward buying and whether or not your products, services and business culture will be a good fit for them.

It pays to think about business relationships as a two way street – not you simply laying down some white stripes that your clients must travel between if they want to be deemed adequate enough to work with you.

So forget for a while about your perfect people and start thinking about the people who make a good match for the products and services you provide. It will prevent you from engaging in magical thinking and ending up disappointed, aggravated and ultimately broke.

Do you have a vision of your “perfect people”? How about buyer personas? Tell me in the comments, and if you need help defining yours, let me know!