Who Is Your Customer?


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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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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Amazing how easy it is to forget that.

    None of us likes to be treated “like a number.” It’s demeaning and impersonal.

    Yet too often our attempts to automate everything do just that. CRM, for example, does a great job automating marketing, sales and customer service. And yet, CRM doesn’t connect with or add value to me because I’m a person, NOT a
    * Lead (marketing)
    * Deal (sales)
    * Incident (service)

    Your post is a reminder that business leaders need to start from the very beginning to know their customers as people and how their “solution” will help do something people care about.

  2. Bob, thanks for the comment. Understanding the “face” of our customer is critical for connecting–whether B2B or B2C. Too often, we let technology actually put us at a further distance from our customers, rather than moving us closer.

  3. . . . . if you can’t escape thinking about customers as groups, industry verticals, or segments. Some executives can’t escape that box, something we’re all painfully aware of when we have a customer experience in which we have to pony up our identity information for the umpteenth time. Happily, social media tools provide salespeople with unprecedented abilities to see people as people (imagine!). As you point out, “our customers are people.” More than a helpful reminder–forgetting that idea risks failure.

    The more we get wowed with technology, and as screeen time replaces face-to-face time, it’s easy to lose that perspective. Still, knowing “who is our customer,” or who we want as a customer requires taking the questions further–much further, actually. If my customer is John, what outcomes does he value? Will the messages I create connect with what he thinks and how he frames his strategic and operational challenges? Which risks are most concerning to him right now? What developments or forces are likely to have the most impact on John’s business?

    This set of discovery questions seeks to understand the whole picture for John’s world. Only then can we begin to position our product or service to help him, if we can at all. A related blog I wrote might be of interest to your readers: Ready to Sell? Quick! Name Your Prospect’s Issue!


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