3 Steps to Finding Your Lab's Customer

Business growth never stops being a priority for private water testing labs. That usually means selling more services to existing customers and targeting new ones. Either way, you need to understand your existing customers' characteristics, needs, and pain points.

Once you know who you're serving, you can use that knowledge to attract more leads and broaden your customer base. Here are three steps you can take to find your ideal clients and turn them into satisfied customers.

1. Analyze Your Current Customer Database

The first step to successfully marketing your lab is understanding who you're serving already. Most private labs serve a range of customers over a local, state, regional, or even national area. Here's a look at some customers you might find in your database — and others you might want to target:

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  • Households With Private Water Supplies

    Over 13 million U.S. households rely on private wells for drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Your clients may include well owners and the people who work with them: realtors, mortgage lenders, home inspectors, well drillers, and pump installers.

    If they follow the EPA's recommendations, they'll need to send water samples to labs once a year — or even more frequently, if their household includes pregnant women, seniors, or children. The Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences states half of the 1 million private water supplies in Pennsylvania alone have never been tested, and 50 percent fail at least one drinking water standard.
  • Households With Municipal Water Supplies

    Households with municipal water supplies may also want to test for contaminants, especially after the well-publicized crisis in Flint, Michigan. In fact, the Water Quality Association reported that, in 2017, the public was more than twice as likely to recognize lead as a water contaminant compared to two years earlier. Again, families with pregnant women, young children, or elderly or ill members may be especially concerned about their water safety.
  • Government Agencies

    You may provide services for local municipalities and environmental agencies, including testing of raw, finished, drinking, and environmental water and wastewater. But as existing standards change and new ones get implemented, you might be called on to offer additional or more stringent tests and to partner with other organizations.
  • Business Owners

    You may also serve businesses with a particular interest in water quality, such as restaurants and medical or dental offices. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that all dental unit waterlines should meet drinking water standards to prevent bacterial growth. According to the American Dental Association, some states are developing legislation that will make dental unit waterline testing mandatory.
  • Facility Managers

    Your lab may also serve mining, manufacturing, and food processing facilities, especially if the quality of the water impacts the quality of the final products. Many of these facilities maintain formal water management programs, and your lab performs the program's vital step of validation.
  • Agriculture Professionals

    You may also perform water testing for farmers concerned about raising healthy crops and livestock, or those who are required to submit water samples for Good Agricultural Practices certification. Produce growers, in particular, will need to ramp up testing to meet Food and Drug Administration regulations and pass upcoming safety inspections.

2. Understand Your Customers' Unique Motivations

Once you've sorted your customers based on segments and geographical area, you need to identify their motivations, which will require further research. The good news is you can use tools and sources already at your disposal to find out what your customers need. Here are some places — and people — to turn to:

  • Chain of Custody Forms

    Add a few optional fields to your Chain of Custody forms that give you valuable customer information. While you'll already know what they're testing samples for, ask why they're testing in the first place. For a household customer, ask for demographic information, including the number of family members and their ages. For a government agency, business owner, facility manager, or agriculture professional, ask about their organization's size and revenue.

    You should also consider capturing how they heard about your services. Was it through a referral, advertisement, internet search, print, or social media? Add all the customer information you collect to your LIMS, where you can aggregate the data to understand how most customers use your services and how they found your lab.
  • Your Customer Service and Sales Teams

    Ask your frontline employees or sales reps about the leads they interact with most often. What goals and challenges have they expressed? Document the common questions and issues to identify how well your lab addresses your customers' most pressing concerns. Make sure to ask about leads your lab lost, as well, which can provide valuable insight into what you could be doing better to stay competitive.
  • Surveys or Interviews

    Conduct personal interviews or surveys of current customers to learn more about them and how satisfied they are with your services. Include customers who've reported complaints or even those who have dropped your lab. What is most important to them when choosing a lab? Where do they research suppliers, products, and services? What publications or blogs do they read? (This can help you identify outlets for advertisements.) Which associations and social networks are they active in? How do they like to interact with suppliers — by mail, phone, email, text, or in person?

3. Segment Your Market

Once you've found your audience and identified what they need from your lab, decide which segments to target for new customers based on size, testing needs, ease of serving, obstacles to acquiring, and potential value to your business. HubSpot suggests creating personas, which are "fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers," to tailor your services and outreach to their specific needs, preferences, and interests.

In some cases, expanding your testing parameters may help you address customers' needs and grow your business. If you don't already offer Legionella pneumophila testing, for example, consider adding it to your services offerings to attract additional business from existing or potential clients.

But how can you invest in acquiring customers without eating away at profits? Lab Manager recommends a variety of ways to market your lab while keeping costs low, such as participating in home-improvement shows, speaking at civic organizations, and providing pamphlets that address questions specific to private individuals and small businesses. Using what you've learned about your target customers' motivations and needs, you can develop a marketing strategy that attracts more like them and expands your business.

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Diana Kightlinger

Diana Kightlinger is an experienced journalist, copywriter, and blogger for science, technology, and medical organizations. She writes frequently for Fortune 500 corporate clients but also has a passion for explaining scientific research, raising awareness of issues, and targeting positive outcomes for people and communities. Diana holds master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism.