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Who Is Your Customer?

by David Brock on June 23rd, 2011

On the surface, this may seem an obvious question.  It’s been one that has been consuming me over the past two days.

I’ve had the privilege of participating as the keynote speaker at a conference of investors and start-up entrepreneurs in Paris the past couple of days.  It’s been fascinating to hear of great product and technologies covering a wide range of B2B and B2C solutions.  Each entrepreneur is filled with passion about what they are doing.

Each has done a tremendous business analysis, they know their competitors, they have done sophisticated market sizing and market analysis.  They’ve done P&L projections.  They’re here to convince the VC”s to part with millions of Euros to fund their companies.

As I’ve reviewed the business plans, the gnawing question kept coming up over and over.  Who is the customer?  When I first posed the question, some thought it was my misunderstanding the French.  They patiently explained in English.  I replied, “No I understand your market analysis, I understand your targets, but I can’t get a picture of who your customer is and how you are going to get to him.  Can you give me a picture of your customer?  What type of business is it, what type of person within the business is it, what are they trying to do, what are their passions, how are you going to address those passions?”

I think in our sophistication and business analysis, we too often lose sight of who our customer is.  Our customers are people within organizations.  They are more than data points and aggregated analysis.  They each have a face, they each have aspirations, they have differing needs to buy.

Until we can understand these and begin addressing them, we don’t know who do sell to or how to help them to buy.  We have to put a face to our customers, I’ve written in the past about Buyer Personas, but in these reviews the concepts of Buyer Personas has never been more strikingly important.

I discovered something else that is very interesting.  Many of the companies presenting are creating web/cloud based services–both targeting consumers and businesses.  Some are gaming companies, some are entertainment companies, others have various social media applications.  All were focusing on creating intensely personal online experiences forr their customers.  What was interesting is these companies had very little idea about who their customers were or how to reach them–there is something about web delivered services–even socially based applications, that seem to make the customer even more distant or unknown.  Because they literally never meet or never talk to the customer, they don’t know who the customer.  It seems to me, it becomes even more important to be able to put a face to the customer in these cases.

It’s important for everyone in the organization to be clear about who our customers are and how we create value for them.  Customers are not just data points.  If we don’t know who they are, what drives them and how we are going to reach them, we don’t know how to create a sale.  I suspect the issue is more general than with these entrepreneurs I am meeting with.  Can you put a face to your customers?  Do you know who they are?

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6 Comments
  1. Too right. Businesses have to know who they’re speaking to–otherwise there’s a lot of effort wasted.

    As a consumer, it’s annoying to hear from people you just aren’t interested in. Businesses can damage their reputation by talking to these people all the time–you become classified “spam” by consumers who just don’t care (even if your message would have meaning for the right person)! You must get your content in front of the right audience.

    And as a business, “selling” (however soft) to people who aren’t in the buying phase is not a good use of your marketing efforts.

    • Alysha–thanks for the comment. Knowing our customer is critical to connecting in a meaningful way.

  2. Adam permalink

    David I think this is a crucial point especially when people sell broad product lines as different people will have different challenges and needs that need to be addressed. Not knowing the “who” can severely limit the chances of success.

    i think it is even more relevant in situations such as complex sales where multiple influencers are being dealt with at the same time. If you address the needs of some but not all you are in trouble.

    We can’t focus only on the person/people who has the final YES. Some influencers may not be able to give the YES, but they can definitely give the NO!

    • Adam, you make outstanding points. Too often we really don’t understand how our customers make decisions, focusing on the wrong people and reducing our odds to win. Thanks for reminding us.

  3. Bingo! The elephant in the room.

    It’s one of the first questions I start asking when I get to a company — that’s about the time the pit in my stomach starts to hurt.

    Major companies can’t answer the question. It’s by asking that question at one major semiconductor company that I discovered the group called “marketing research” was simply an internal service bureau for doing isolated reports for projects. They didn’t synthesize anything nor did that draw any conclusions across reports. But it wasn’t really their fault — it was the fault of the financial model: everything is funded by projects. They were not funded by any corporate-wide efforts (but for the entire time I was there, I couldn’t find any such budgets).

    • Paula, thanks for adding to the discussion. Too often customers are numbers–data, we can’t put a face to the customer, we don’t know how to really connect. Thanks for the comment.

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