When we use the word “customer” who exactly do we mean?

I was speaking with a CMO and a VP of Sales this week – discussing their go-to-market strategy behind a product launch that is not performing anywhere near expectations. The symptoms they are facing are not uncommon – despite a flurry of sales and marketing initiatives, sales cycles are too long, win rates are low, and the deals that are coming in are too small.

When I asked, “Who do you currently sell to?” The CMO promptly responded, “We know our customers, it’s that the market that is changing too fast.” The VP of Sales agreed, “Our competition is catching up and our products are not as differentiating as they used to be.”

I had to pause and think before I could respond: “When did ‘market’ and ‘customer’ become two different things? Said differently, when was that last time your organization received a purchase order that was signed, ‘The Market’?”


Then the VP of Sales said, “We segment by company size, industry, and geography – and we certainly DON’T get purchase orders signed that way. We DO get purchase orders when we connect to people’s problems and build relationships by solving those problems. If we are focused on Markets and Products, we are focusing on the wrong thing; both Markets and Products are ultimately defined by the people who use them.”

To which the CMO added, "This is like trying to see something clearly after putting frosted glass in your own way."

I couldn’t agree more. Knowing your customer means clearly understanding:

  • The people who measure the value of your offering(s) with their wallets
  • The people who are trying to understand how your offering(s) help them be successful
  • The people who require different forms of communication – content and conversations – to clearly understand the value your organization delivers to them
  • The interconnections between these people, business drivers, and budget sources that need to be aligned for your value to be realized

…in order to drive reliable and repeatable revenue streams.

Try this exercise at work. Find five people in different parts of your company, and ask them a simple question. Who do we sell to? What happens next ought to be illuminating: They will each answer differently. What are the implications of different answers and how do we get more clarity? Please join me and my colleague Scott Santucci as we unpack this question further and share our most recent data, research and insight on Selling To Changed Buyers In A Changed Economy  – June 26th at 11am Eastern time