Everybody is my customer

A couple of years ago, I went to lunch with a friend that I hadn’t seen in years. She was running her own Hypnotherapy business. She covered a wide range of areas including hyno-birthing, smoking cessation, weight loss, confidence building, stress management etc. The lunch was supposed to see how hypnotherapy could help to organised my chaotic life. 10mins into the lunch and it turned into a business consultancy session. And so came the question,

Who is your target customer?

Everyone!

she answered as if to say what a silly question. At which point, looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

As mentor and startup business advisor, I am still shocked that this is a default answer for too many startups. The fear of “missing out” on a potential revenue source is the driver behind such thoughts. All this despite the success of books like Business Model Generation, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development, these a startups bible alongside Lean Startup Machine and Getting to Plan B. Fear should not dictate your customer development strategy, it’s an irrational emotion.

I like to use the ice cream example to illustrate the point about having a clearly defined target customer. Think about it

Who is Walls, Ben & Jerrys and Hagen Daas targeted at?

Walls (ice cream tubs) is targeted at housewives and mothers who want a quick and reasonably priced treat for the family after dinner. Ben & Jerrys targets environmentally conscious, eco buyers for whom organic products are important. Haagen Das is targeted young beautiful things concerned with luxury making a lifestyle statement. How do we know this? The ads, off course.  In reality they are all the same product but this laser sharp focus on defining their product for specific buyer profiles enables them to craft a clear marketing message. These products are undoubedtly purchased by a way broader range of customer profiles. For instance,  I have Ben & Jerrys, Cart D’Or and Magnums in my freezer at any given time, but as a brand it’s not possible to market to everybody.

The Customer development process is one of the most under-developed yet essential elements to determine the success of a business. It is at the core of product/market fit. Until you have a clearly defined target customer NOT customers, it will be impossible to develop a marketing and sales strategy. The focus on everyone as a customer is that your potential customer is either confused by your proposition or totally unaware that your product or service is exactly what they need.

The basics, if you’re not going to invest in the Startup bibles mentioned:

  1. Research: talk to your potential customer and understand what they do everyday, what will bring them in touch with your product or service, who they’re influenced by and so on
  2. Empathy: understand what problem you’re solving by understanding the issues that erk them
  3. Identify: out of all the potential customers, choose one and only one to begin with. Your marketing strategy will be based on this customer profile. As the business grows, you can move on to the next customer. Think Apple, think Nintendo wii, think Microsoft Office, think Google Chrome.
  4. Feedback: maintain and encourage an open dialogue with these customers. Gain as much feedback on your offering as possible to use as part of your product development process.

For the hardcore techies reading this, you’re thinking I’d rather stick pins in my eyes. The realisation that product development and marketing strategy are intrinsically linked is one of the biggest light bulb moments that any startup experiences.

Are there any similar light bulb moments that you have experienced?