As any successful business owner knows, the most important part of sustained business success is knowing your customers. No business can last long without its owner understanding the customers and what they want. After all, if a customer doesn’t feel appreciated, he or she isn’t going to stick around for long. Taking the current business world’s size into account, 100 competitors or more is a healthy number for a business.

With so many options available to consumers these days, it’s no longer enough for a business simply to offer the best product or service in its industry. It also has to connect with customers in a way that keeps them coming back consistently. No matter what you’re selling, you need to reach customers on their level. You need to know who they are, what matters to them and how your brand fits into that puzzle.

The best way to do that is by asking the right questions and constantly staying abreast of who your customers are and what they’re about. Here are a few things every business should know about their customer base.

1. How old is your customer?

This might seem to be one of the most basic things to know about your customers, but it’s still worth saying because it’s an important part of developing your strategy to keep and obtain customers. If you don’t have a general idea of the age of your potential customer, you’re going to have a hard time knowing where you need to shift your advertising focus and strategy.

For example, a product typically used by people in their mid-50s would probably do very well if advertised in AARP Magazine, which is heavily circulated and enjoyed by the demographic you seek. But a product that’s mainly used by people in their late 20s wouldn’t find much of a market in AARP Magazine, making an advertising campaign there a complete waste of money.

The best way to find out the age of your customer is to conduct trustworthy research on your product and determine the types of people most likely to buy and engage with it. From there, you can craft your message accordingly to meet their needs.

2. Why do they buy your product or service?

Consumers need to have a reason for what they purchase. Sometimes, the need is obvious, such as paying an HVAC repairman when the existing HVAC goes down, or buying new baking sheets to make cookies. Other times, the need isn’t quite as straightforward, but the product somehow appeals to something in the minds of customers and triggered their desires to own it. Decorative or specialty products, such as a welcome sign, fall into this category.

In some cases, their desire isn’t just to make their lives better with your product, but also to contribute to your business because they share your values. A great example is when a customer buys Girl Scout Cookies, which cost more than most cookies in the grocery store. The customer knows that the money from their purchase goes toward benefiting girls around the world; the money is going to a cause they care about.

In all these cases, the customer has decided that for whatever reason, they need to purchase the product in question, because it will make their lives better in some way. What you have to do is figure out how your product improves the lives of your customers and emphasize its benefits in a way that speaks to their needs. Once you figure out why someone chooses to purchase your product, you can decide whether to emphasize the rational or emotional benefits (logos vs. pathos) of buying from you, depending on what your research shows you.

3. How did they find your business?

In one early episode of Family Guy, when discussing his plan to help the struggling Quahog Theater attract customers, Peter Griffin pulls out the most simple strategy in history. “I’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and that’s like 10 people right there.”

Peter’s math might have been off, but for once, his reasoning skills were right on the money. People like to talk about things that make their lives better. Chances are, if your product has gone a long way toward improving someone’s life, that person is going to tell someone else, who might then spread the word to their own social circle and create even more chances for your business to gain revenue.

Or perhaps your business gets its customers through a robust social media campaign that turns likes and clicks into genuine leads, or maybe customers find you because you’ve got a strong internet presence and great SEO skills. There are many different ways for you to reach potential customers, and you’ve got to find out which ways reached the majority of your customers. Whatever the answer is, that’s where more of your customers are, and that’s where you can increase your market and your brand loyalty.

4. What do they like about your company?

As brands and companies start to establish themselves and their personality traits, they’re discovering that consumers like to feel good about the products they’re purchasing. For some customers, that means purchasing products that seem cool or popular and make them feel like they stand out from the crowd. These consumers value the benefits of your product and how it helps them live their lives, so their focus will likely be limited to the product itself.

Other customers might take a view of the social scene in the world and want to support companies that share their values. These customers might not view your product as being far superior to similar products, but they buy your product anyway because they like what you stand for and want to support you. These consumers are likely to be very brand-loyal because they view your company as more than just the purchased product. Instead, they support what you represent, and they’re going to do everything they can to help you succeed because they share your values. That’s a great situation for any business owner to have.

Whatever the reason your customers choose to purchase from you, you need to emphasize when crafting your marketing message. Remember, when one customer finds your company to be one that they can trust, it bodes well for developing future interactions with customers of the same mindset.

5. What do they expect from your brand?

Consumers don’t like to be lied to in any situation. Even when your brand is upfront and honest about who and what it is, consumers will depart if they feel that they’ve not received what they were promised.

A great example is the case of Nissan Computers. If you visit Nissan.com, you’re not going to find the car company’s stylish website or its fleet of vehicles. Instead, you find a bare-bones website with a few buttons related to computer services. That’s because nissan.com isn’t owned by the car company, but by Uzi Nissan, the owner of Nissan Computers. However, this can be a major backfire for Nissan Computers, because many of its visitors come in looking for the more famous car company. When they don’t get it, they’re often gone and they don’t come back.

That’s a bit of an extreme example, but it emphasizes the larger point: Customers come in with expectations, and if those expectations aren’t met, they’re going to go elsewhere. Whether your brand is built on luxury and fails to make consumers feel like they’re getting the best in the business or simply doesn’t live up to its tagline, your brand is often acknowledged as an unwritten contract with the customer to meet a certain expectation. When you fall short, your entire relationship with your customer can fall into a precarious position, and it can make them look elsewhere.

6. What do they think of your competition?

No business is without competitors for long, and that’s especially true in this day and age, when consumers can easily purchase products from across the country or even from around the globe. In order to stay a step ahead of your competition, you have to know what your customers think about the other options on the market.

The best way to stand out is to offer products whose quality outshines that of your competition.  Is there something that your product has that makes consumers gravitate toward it, or does their product have a feature that yours needs to add? It’s a good idea to keep your ear to the ground and constantly monitor what your competitors are doing to give yourself as much of an advantage over them as possible.

You’ll also want to consider the values of your competitors and how you differ from them. Perhaps you’re able to get customers to pay slightly higher prices for your products because you use a vendor located an hour away, while your competition uses a supplier who’s cheaper but in another state. Or maybe you supported a local charity that touches a lot of lives in your community. These things matter to consumers, and often mean more than you think. If you have a way to separate yourself from the competition with your community work, that’s not something to overlook.

7. Where does your customer like to buy?

E-commerce is growing every year. As millennials and Generation Z gain a greater share of the market, the market will have to adjust to their expectations. Millennials now do 60 percent of their shopping online, and that number is likely to keep increasing as they continue to become the driving force in the market.

You need to make sure that you’re offering your customers as many options as possible to purchase your product. Is your website set up to maximize sales, or is it just a place to get information? If you’re seeking millennial buyers, you would be wise to make sure that your site is set up to turn leads into sales. Even if millennials aren’t your target market, older generations are becoming more comfortable with buying online and getting a product shipped to them, and businesses who only offer one way to buy risk getting left behind.

8. How does your customer like to buy?

Millennials might prefer buying online with their laptops, but Generation Z has grown up on their mobile phones and has gotten used to doing just about everything with their phones. Send money to a friend, pay for dinner, check their bank statement: it’s all right there on their phone, and it’s always been that way for as long as they’ve had any purchasing power.

When designing your site to maximize web traffic and convert it into sales, you need to remember your mobile site as well. The mobile version of a website is often drastically different from the computer version, and a mobile site that’s commerce-friendly goes a long way toward sales.

You’ll also want to consider alternative forms of payment. Gen Z and millennials have grown up with PayPal, Venmo and other electronic payment options, and offering these services can make it even easier for these customers to make a purchase when they spot a product they want on your site.

9. How much does your customer like to buy?

Some products are designed to be purchased one at a time and last for a while, while others are meant to be bought in packs or purchased on a fairly regular basis. As a business, you need to understand how much a customer is likely to buy so that you can set your bottom line and price point accordingly. If your goal is to make $10,000 in profit each month, you need to figure out how to allocate your resources and set your prices to make that possible. If you don’t know how much of your product your customer likes to buy at once, that work becomes nothing more than an uneducated guess, possibly the worst thing you can do in business.

10. Why don’t they buy more?

There could be a number of reasons why your customers buy only a certain amount of your product at any given time. If you sell the kind of product that only needs to be purchased once, that’s not a worry. But if your product is designed to be bought repeatedly, you need to find out why your customers aren’t buying as much of it as you’d like.

Maybe the price point is simply too high to justify a regular purchase. In that case, you can figure out how you can your manufacturing costs lowered. Or perhaps your website isn’t set up to generate sales. That’s a problem that you can have your team address, and in doing so, you can make your company even better.

In all cases, your customers are the lifeblood of your business, and without them, you don’t have much of a business for very long. The best way to keep them around is to listen to them and try to understand them as best as you can. By getting to know who your customers are and what they think, you’ll put yourself ahead of the competition and set yourself up for real success.