Why the customer readiness continuum matters

Strategists, consultants, and coaches (like me) spend a lot of time talking about your ideal client. Who is the right person with the right problem that will get the most value out of what you have to offer? I’ve talked about this a lot. Like, a lot.

I’ve written newsletters and blog posts, developed worksheets, offered specific strategy calls all around the idea of understanding your ideal customer. I don’t regret any of that because it will always be one of the most critical steps in having a successful business or nonprofit. You have to know who you serve.

But one important aspect of the ideal customer I think many people are missing in the conversation (including me, until now) is this:

Are they ready to actually spend money to solve the problem?

During a recent group coaching call with the fabulous Jess Eley, she talked about the stages of customer readiness—from not even knowing they have a problem to practically throwing their money at someone to solve that problem. It was a moment of realization for me. Service providers who have high ticket offers like website designers, brand strategists, copywriters, and strategic coaches, like me, don’t necessarily need a large volume of clients so we only need to be focused on people who are at the latter end of that continuum.

Too many of us are wandering the halls of the internet and social media trying to convince people they have a problem. If it has just occurred to you that you might need to redesign your website or rework your entire brand, you aren’t going to be ready to drop a few thousand dollars on it.

It’s going to take time to move from “Oh, maybe I should update my brand?” to “Hey, who can I pay to do this for me right now, I can’t take this outdated brand any longer?”

Problem Versus Solution Awareness

This is an important distinction for all businesses, whether or not you offer high-priced services. The work you do to identify your ideal client matters. You’ll never convince someone to buy who isn’t likely to get value from what you offer. They have to know they have a problem and depending on what you provide and how much it costs, you need to know if they are considering something that might help, actively looking for a solution, or desperately seeking someone like you.

Once you have a better feel for their level of problem and solution awareness, you can focus on what you say to them in order to convince them that you are the right person to help them. What you say to someone desperately seeking someone like you is much different than what you would say if you were trying to convince someone they had the problem in the first place.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

A friend of mine is thinking about offering writing coaching services and she specifically wants to focus on helping people build their own artistic sensibility in their writing, creating a practice and voice that is uniquely theirs with the ultimate goal of publishing and/or earning money through their writing.

She wants to differentiate herself by doing more than project managing and book editing. There are many people who do that and it’s definitely needed. My friend isn’t really an editor, nor does she enjoy that kind of work as much as she enjoys helping people uncover what they truly want to say in their writing and helping them find a way to say it that is not only authentically and uniquely them, but it makes the impact they want to make with their work.

That’s pretty unique in the writing coach world (at least from what we’ve seen). When talking about her ideal client, it’s easy to see she needs to focus on people who want to write. She also needs to be looking for people who want that deeper level of coaching. They are likely struggling to complete a project that matters to them. There is a book or story inside of them they really want to get out, and they haven’t been able to do it yet. They also probably want to do more with their writing, even if they aren’t sure quite what that is. They need more than accountability to put words on the page—and they need to know that. 

The continuum of customer readiness

For her, the continuum looks something like this:

0 – Not writing anything right now, even if they are thinking about it
1 – Has tried writing something, but struggled and gave up
2 – Keeps coming back to the project and thinks maybe they could use some help so they’ve found a few free or inexpensive resources
3 – Doing it on their own isn’t working, so they have decided that a coach or accountability group is what they need, but they aren’t sure who or where to find one
4 – Looking for help but not a high priority. Thinks they want more than accountability. They intend to keep writing after this project and they want to define their own artistic style and voice as a writer.
5 – Sick and tired of not making progress, ready to do this right now, actively trying to find a coach or program.

My friend definitely shouldn’t focus on trying to get customers who are in stages 0 through 2. It would take so much time and energy to move them up the continuum that it won’t be a good return on investment for her.

Ideal: Stage 5

They are ready to go, the money is in their hand and all she needs to do is make a connection and build rapport. Coaching is always about finding a good fit, so not every person who is at Stage 5 is going to be right for her, but the ones who are will be the easiest to convert. At this level, she can be explicit in her content—she can literally say “If you want (stage 4) and you are (stage 5) then let’s talk and see if I’m the person to help you.” She can also ask for very specific referrals from people she knows because it’s going to be really clear if they know someone who meets that criteria or not.

Next Best: Stage 4

This conversation will look slightly different, in that she’ll need to not only build rapport but also help people find a sense of urgency to move forward now. We’ve all had moments of knowing we want to do something, but we aren’t quite ready for whatever reason. Maybe it’s financial. Maybe there are other things going on in our lives. Even if we want it, we are waiting for the “right time.” Those are Stage 4 people. She is going to have to help them see that now is the right time.

Potential (but longer-term): Stage 3

These people aren’t totally out of the question, but there’s even more work to be done here to move them to purchase She needs to find out if they want more than accountability and project management and/or convince them of why they should want more. This is where she can think about longer-term content, particularly sharing the success stories of the clients she has worked with and how the additional layer of coaching that she provides makes a difference.

Customer readiness affects every aspect of your sales and marketing

If she had done a more traditional ideal client persona, even one with an emphasis on how the ideal client feels, she would have been more likely to be focused on people in stages 2 or 3 and developed a marketing plan and content around trying to convince them they should hire a coach. Not only is that a long game to play, but she would also likely have ended up with some clients who were less than ideal because they were simply looking for someone to hold them accountable to fishing their project.

If you sell a lower-priced item, targeting folks in lower stages might be worthwhile. But make sure it addresses them where they are and that your marketing reflects it. My friend might ultimately want to sell a mini-course on how to find your voice as a writer or how to outline your book that would be a good fit for folks in stage 1 or stage 2 who are looking for intro-level help. It might also help them move up the continuum while they get to know more about her and how she works, making a later conversion to her signature package much easier.

The key is to know what problem you solve, what value you provide, and to get a solid understanding of where people are at in relation to the problem and solution. You can build a business serving people who are not yet problem aware, but it will look very different.

If you are a high ticket service provider, take some time to think about the clients that have gotten the most value out of your work and that you enjoyed working with the most, where you both walked away feeling amazing about the relationship. Where were those clients right before they signed on to work with you? What was it about their situation that made them ready to buy?

Try and create your customer readiness scale based on those questions. Then take a look at your marketing efforts and see if they are focused on people at the last stage. Adapt as needed.