Most of the entrepreneurs I work with are thinking about raising funds or have already started the process, but I also advise a lot of entrepreneurs who are just starting their businesses.

I was talking to one such entrepreneur last week. Let’s call him “Stan.”

I met Stan recently at a startup event where he showed me a neat little gadget which he developed, had manufactured, and started selling.

Unfortunately, sales have been slow, just a trickle which have not been nearly enough to keep up with his costs.

“How can I grow my sales to something sustainable for my business?” he asked me. “How can I reach more people?”

“Well,” I replied. “Who’s your customer?”

“What do you mean?” he answered, confused by the question.

“Are they men or women? Older or younger? Where do they live? What do they like to do? How much money do they make?” I asked, trying to explain. “And most importantly, how do they use your product?”

“Hmmm…,” he thought for a moment. “Well, we know that most of our sales have been in the U.S.”

That was it. That was all Stan knew about his customers.

Needless to say, it’s no wonder Stan had been having such a hard time selling his gadget (which is actually pretty cool!). He really didn’t know who was buying it or why, which meant that he really couldn’t easily find other people who would be likely to buy it.

Stan was shooting in the dark.

My advice to Stan was to go and find out what he could about who his customers were, get to know them, their habits, where they hung out, their likes and dislikes, and what they liked about the product and what they don’t like about the product.

I tell people that they need to go out and “date” their customers. Spend time with them. Hang out with them. Become their friends, and learn about the things that matter to them. Discover what your customers are willing to spend their time and money on.

Once you have a handle on who your customer is, then it’s much easier to target other people like them and then sell to them. It’s tough to sell (and expensive!) to everyone in the universe!

But for example, say you own a gym and now know that your best customers are young, unmarried, college-educated, professional men who work out at least three times a week. You can get a lot more bang for your buck in trying to reach that very specific segment, by targeting coffee shops and grocery stores that those guys frequent than blasting pricey ads to everyone in the area, most of whom will never step foot in your gym.

Be smart about your time and money. Date your customer!

How do you date YOUR customer?