Why ideal client avatars don’t work (and what to do instead!)

This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

Subscribe on: Email | YouTube | Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify | Amazon Music

How many times have you made an ideal client avatar? If you’re like me, FAR too many.

We’re told, over and over again that ideal client avatars are a necessary part of our business, and we have to have them to use in our marketing.

The big flaw? Well, you’ll have to tune into today’s episode with Natalie McGuire to find out!

Visit Natalie: Natalie McGuire Designs | Free Mini-Course | Instagram | Facebook


Erin Flynn: Hey everyone, welcome back. Today, I am here with my friend, Natalie McGuire, and we are going to trash talk ideal customer avatars, which I absolutely cannot wait for because we both kind of hate them a lot. Thanks for being here, Natalie.

Natalie McGuire: Thank you so much. There’s no one else I would rather trash-talk customer avatars with.

Erin Flynn: This is what we would probably do, we haven’t had the opportunity to meet in person, but I have the feeling, if we did, we’d grabbed some sour beers and trash talk customer avatars.

Natalie McGuire: That just sounds like a lovely afternoon if you ask me, yes.

Erin Flynn: One day when this pandemic has all calmed down and we can conference and stuff again, we’re just going to have to make that happen.

Natalie McGuire: Absolutely, I’m down.

Erin Flynn: All right, so before we get started trash talking, I want to make sure everybody’s on the same page, everybody listening and understands exactly what it is that we’re talking about, so what is an ideal customer avatar?

Natalie McGuire: Yeah, so, I mean, I’m sure a lot of people, if you’ve been in the online business space for awhile you’ve seen everybody talking about, “You have to have a customer avatar.” And basically that’s a detailed profile of who your ideal customer is. And it kind of goes beyond age, gender, yearly income, demographic information, it’s not quite that. It really focuses on just one person and everything about them, their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, all parts of their life, but it kind of gets to an absurd level. It can also get into the cars that they drive, their workout routines, the cereals they eat, the magazines they read, where they spend their summer. I mean, I’ve seen these broken down to just kind of an absurd degree and just everybody out there on the internet says that you absolutely have to have one, and it’s this multi page document that just sort of goes on and on and on.

Erin Flynn: Yes, so I think I’ve probably done a customer avatar, probably a million times in my business because everyone wants you to do one and then they all want you to do their own version of it. And I have to say, I’m be guilty too because I’ve had my students do this in the past. And it’s because it’s just what everybody does and some of the information is relevant and some of it is very, definitely not important what cereal they eat, who cares? So why is this the standard? Why is this something that we all have to do for every single program we take and every single thing that we ever try and do in our business?

Natalie McGuire: Totally, I mean, I think it’s sort of used so much because it does help to provide a framework, to get to know who your customer is on a deeper level, so you can really write to them in your website, your email, your social copy, so that you can craft services for them. I mean, that’s really huge, services that’ll appeal to them but it also helps to outline how and where to market to them. So it is a valid exercise to have people do, my big gripe with it is that it’s just not based in reality. That’s kind of the biggest problem with them, I think that they could be much more focused and specific to an actual product or service rather than being quite so general.

Erin Flynn: My biggest gripe is that we do these customer avatars, and like you said, they’re not based in reality, that we’re inventing this fake person who is our ideal client who may or may not actually exist in the world because it’s based on just whoever we think wants to buy. Normally we have a product or a service first and we’re like, “Who would buy this? Oh, well, let me make the avatar for it.” And then it’s like we’re trying to force, create this magical person to buy something that we already have decided that we’re going to sell as opposed to creating something for a real person that they actually want.

Erin Flynn: And so we keep wondering, “Why am I not getting my ideal client? Why is every client not living up to my expectations? Why can’t I find my perfect client anywhere?” And then we get this frustration because our products or services are not selling as well as we thought they should and every client is falling short of what we pictured in our head as the magical person who was going to come [inaudible 00:04:42] throwing money at us for this service.

Natalie McGuire: Exactly, and that’s the biggest problem with them is that at the end of the day in these exercises, you’re just making these people up. And when you make them up, this is the biggest problem that I see with a lot of the people that I work with, the biggest problem with these avatar exercises is that you inadvertently start to create this fake person based on you. So you start answering a lot of these avatar questions as how you would answer them, because it’s easier to write about yourself than to make someone up and you know yourself best. So at the end of these avatar exercises, everybody’s conclusion is, my avatar is me and that’s not necessarily true.

Natalie McGuire: And so that’s another reason why it’s like these exercises aren’t super helpful. I mean, because you’re making people up and you’re inadvertently turning them into you. And then like you said, you run into these problems of, “Why am I not attracting my ideal customer? Why aren’t they buying from me?” Or worse, what if they are, but you don’t end up liking them. You’ve attracted people that do fit this description, but maybe they’re not super fun to work with. That can also be a problem with these exercises, it’s just not based on reality.

Erin Flynn: So I think the biggest problem that we’ve honed in on is it’s not a real person, it’s just this made up magical dream person that is not based in reality. So what can we do that’s going to work better than inventing the magical person to buy our product or service?

Natalie McGuire: Absolutely, and this is going to sound just crushingly simple, and it really doesn’t have to be this multi page PDF that just involves typing for hours and hours on a document. It’s really about, especially if you’ve been in business and maybe you’ve had a few customers that you’ve liked. And I would focus on that you liked them, and that they were fun to work with and that you really enjoyed the interaction with them, to get those people on a 30 minute Zoom call and do an interview and really asking them specific questions around why they worked with you, what they were struggling with before working with you, what they liked about working with you and getting some specific answers to those questions that go beyond their workout routines, the magazines they read, or the cereals that they eat. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than a 30 minute call and to definitely record it so that you can go back and watch it again.

Natalie McGuire: I mean, some of the best questions that I’ve gathered over the years with my clients, and I do these interviews with every client that I work with, I interview their best customers as well before we begin the project, because we really need sort of a framework as we rebuild the copy, rebuild some services, see what opportunities we might be missing from a business perspective. These questions can really help you to invent a new service. They can help you rewrite your copy, rewrite your email funnels, start the strategy for your social media posts. I mean, these questions are really super meaty and you can get them done in a half an hour.

Natalie McGuire: So some of my favorite questions that I’ve collected over the years really go into, what was happening in your life that made you seek out this particular product or service? That’s always a really great way to start the conversation. I also to ask, what challenges were you trying to solve? What results were you hoping to get? What nearly stopped you from buying? What did you the most about this product or service? And if you could improve the product or service at all, how would you do it? And with all of these questions, I mean, it really only takes about a half an hour to have these calls, but the biggest thing with these questions is to just shut up. When were you ask the question and then you just shut up. You just listen and you let people ramble. You let them tell their stories. You let them rabbit trail off into…

Natalie McGuire: For example, the question of, what was happening in your life that made you seek out this product or service? I just was conducting a client interview yesterday for another client of mine. And in her life, when she was getting ready to buy one of my client’s courses, she was getting ready to go on maternity leave and she was looking for a way of continuing her therapy practice without having longterm engagements with her patients, and she really wanted more of a one and done kind of a service. And so knowing what was going on in her life, she was looking for more flexibility in her life, she was looking for something that was a quick income stream, something she could do quickly while on maternity leave. And you get a sense of what’s really going on in someone’s life versus where they summer on the weekends in their normal life.

Natalie McGuire: We’re getting answers to real questions of where they were at before seeking out this product or service. And then really getting into the nitty gritty of what were they trying to solve, what challenges did they have? What nearly stopped them from buying? And then that really will help you to get to the root of what you want to be discussing in your website copy, what goes on those sales pages and half the time you get cut and pastable language, that you can just take that and plug it into your sales page exactly what someone was struggling with before working with you.

Natalie McGuire: And the more that you have these sorts of interviews, you start to see the patterns of like, “Oh, okay. So all of these people were struggling with this particular thing.” Then that gives you even more credence to put that in your copy, to put that in your email sales funnels, to put that in your social media. It really has huge implications as you work these things out, through all of these pieces. And it’s based on reality, they’re telling you, they’re happy to give you this information, you don’t have to guess. And it only takes a few minutes and you get so much information from these people. They’re so happy to give it because they’ve already worked with you, they liked you enough to hop on a call and they will really spill the beans if you let them, so let them.

Erin Flynn: I love that, I love that so much. And I think the calls are super great. I love this idea of the face to face Zoom, because I think especially when you’re developing copy for your website or content or developing a new service, getting that really, really raw feedback and information from your past clients is going to be so valuable in using the right language.

Natalie McGuire: Absolutely, when they’re talking to you and they’re seeing you, they are involved in a conversation. And so you get to see the nuances in what they’re saying, and you get to fall down the rabbit trail with them. I mean, I’ve been really surprised with these conversations, how quickly they’ve gotten dark, how quickly they got emotional, it’s not uncommon for people to cry, which I think can be really scary as the person that’s doing the interviewing.

Natalie McGuire: And I think it can be really uncomfortable at times, but if you set your emotional state and you are a willing participant, and you’re willing to listen, and you’re willing to see where someone maybe said something in a certain way, or used a very emotionally charged word, or maybe their face started to change a little bit, or maybe their eyes started to well up in tears, and you can do a well-placed tell me more. And again, just shut up, let them talk. You’ll be amazed at some of the things people will say, it’s completely rewarding having these calls and you would miss it completely if there was just a survey, there’s no way people would get into these nuances of their stories otherwise.

Erin Flynn: So do you record these? I mean, obviously with permission, do you record these and then… Because obviously if you’re scribbling notes that might be difficult to catch all of the nuances and pay attention, how do you do that portion?

Natalie McGuire: Yeah, I definitely record the calls. And then I also take notes when there’s a major gem that somebody mentions. And I’m trying to think of some examples, I don’t want to blow anybody’s cover by saying too much, but there’s definitely been times where you’ll discover based on what somebody has said, the new headline for a website, the new tagline or the major pain points that people are struggling with. There’s been so many times where somebody will bring up, “Oh, well I’ve just been so busy for so long, and if I didn’t buy this particular service, I just felt I was a failure.” And I’m like, “Oh, tell me more about that.” And this person proceeded to really divulge all of these things. And in that point it’s really important to maintain eye contact and to just put down the keyboard and stop typing and really honor where they’re emotionally.

Natalie McGuire: And if you have it recorded, then you can go back and find those nuggets or you can kind of make a note in your head, but kind of a combination of recording and taking notes is really, really helpful, but definitely staying present, maintaining eye contact is really huge so that you create that container of a safe place for people to fall down some of these stories. Because, I mean, some of these conversations I’ve had for people that have designed chairs or that are therapists, or I’ve even done this in my own business, I’m rebranding myself right now and I just went through eight of these calls with past clients of mine. And I’ve just been so amazed with how quickly people are willing to get very candid with you, and having a recording and having some notes is really helpful that you can go back to and have that concrete thing that you can refer back to again and again, as you’re as you’re going through these processes. So you don’t miss anything.

Erin Flynn: This is so, so good. So is there a magic, you mentioned eight for your own kind of rebrand, but is there a magic number we should aim for if we’re trying to rebrand or come up with a new service? Or just any way we can get is better than none?

Natalie McGuire: Yeah, I would say between five and 10, that’s really where I to go. With anybody that signs on to work with me I budget in time for them to pick between five to 10 people. A lot of the people that I work with they do one on one services, but they also have courses too. And so in those situations I like to have at least three in each group, if they have multiple courses, then it’s three for this course, three for that course, three for these services. And so you’re starting to get enough of a pattern, enough of an overlap to see what the patterns are between all of these people. But then you get things that are specific to that particular course, to that particular service and so on.

Erin Flynn: Okay, so if we are trying to do this first, we’ll let’s say, we’re doing our own business, a lot of my listeners are probably thinking about how they would implement this in their business first, maybe before offering it for clients or something. So let’s say they want to make a new service, if they can get five past clients on a Zoom and then kind of go through this process, 30 minutes each, how do they take, that is not quite the right word, but the language and the information and is there a good way to organize that? You just throw it in a Google doc or Evernote? How do you take all of this and then start to see the patterns?

Natalie McGuire: What has worked for me, and definitely everybody’s mind is going to work differently with this kind of stuff, but you notice pretty quickly, at the end of the interview, I mean, I just have a text doc open while I conduct the interview. And at the end of it, I go through and I highlight major things that are like, “Ooh, this is a really good point that somebody made.” Or, “Oh, here’s an idea for a new product or service that would help with this particular situation.” I go through and I highlight a handful of those things, and then I start putting the full answers into a spreadsheet, which is very unsexy and unpretty. So I have all of those same highlighted points and I have it organized by person. And then from there you can start to see like, “Okay, so three people mentioned something similar around this particular problem.” Or, “Three people had this particular challenge that they were struggling with.” Or, “These three people really liked this thing about the product or service.”

Natalie McGuire: And then that’s kind of how you can start to see the patterns overall, but you kind of have to do it a little bit in stages, and while the conversation is still pretty raw in your head, highlighting things right after the call is really important. And then after all the interviews are done, looking at everything again in that main spreadsheet where you can see all of the data all at once, then the patterns become even more clear of what you’re looking at and that will give you the permission to start taking those pieces and being like, “Okay, I’m confident working in these particular phrases on the sales page.” Or, “I’m comfortable changing the main headline on this page to this particular thing.” That will really help so that you can kind of start seeing how you apply that.

Erin Flynn: Okay, this is so good. I think that we’ve hit 20 minutes of just pure mindblowing, I had to change how I do everything because the traditional ones don’t work. So I think we’re going to kind of start to wrap it up here because there are so many great things that everybody can go implement right away. Asking these questions, getting interviews and things scheduled, so I don’t want to overload them with more, although I’m sure we could talk about more for hours. But tell us a little bit about how you use the language and conversions and things, I know you have a great freebie, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Natalie McGuire: I do, yeah, I’m offering a free three day mini course on the secrets to websites that sell. So you can opt in on my website, it’s all over my website at nataliemcguiredesign.com, so feel free to opt in and join the mini course there.

Erin Flynn: Awesome, and I’ll make sure we have a link for that as well as any others. Where else can we find and follow you online? And if somebody wants to slide into your DMs, what’s a good platform for that?

Natalie McGuire: Absolutely, well I’m at nataliemcguiredesign.com, but I’m also on Facebook and Instagram as Natalie McGuire Design there too.

Erin Flynn: Awesome, I will make sure all of those links are in the show notes. Thank you so much, this conversation has been so incredible. I just-

Natalie McGuire: Oh, thank you, it’s been so fun.

Erin Flynn: I absolutely love this, I cannot wait to share this with everybody because I think it’s going to make a huge, huge difference in how everybody approaches these client avatars, so I can’t wait. Thank you again for being here.

Natalie McGuire: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me. It’s been a blast.

Erin Flynn: All right, everyone, I will see you on in the next episode.