Focusing on the primary customer reduces business uncertainty


Every business is a bet. Uncertainty, wrote Geoff Colvin in, is the CEO’s primary concern. 1 Competition, fluctuating market demand, disruptive technology, attrition, internal inefficiencies, government policy, regulatory changes and natural calamities are all common factors, spanning three major sources of business uncertainty – the market, company operations, and financing.

However, addressing the first of these – reducing the uncertainties in your market – nets the big fish.

Peter Drucker’s classic observation – that the purpose of business is to create customers 2 – has a corollary: retaining your customers and enlarging your customer base for the long haul are key to tackling business uncertainty. Prioritizing customers as the chief stakeholder group keeps a business in business.

In “What is Customer Success and What Can it Do for Your Company?” 3, we argued that helping your customers succeed in their endeavours was the differentiator between companies struggling to hold their bottom line and those achieving sustained growth.

The key questions

To help you gain a deeper understanding of what fosters customer success, we share our findings about three crucial issues that need to be addressed for you to succeed at existing customer retention and new customer acquisition:

  • Who are your primary customers?
  • How do you help them stay engaged with your offerings?
  • Which marketing automation tools would you need?

We’ll be covering this in a three-part series. In this article, let’s start with the first: How do you decide who should (and shouldn’t) be your customer?

Filtering your customers

The term ‘customer’ here not only stands for the person who buys your product or service, but could include your entire supply chain, your customer’s customers, and their supply chains. Many business leaders even include their employees, shareholders, and the local community. (A Deloitte University Press report, addressing this from a business ecosystem viewpoint, includes even one’s competitors! 4)

Given that fact, however, customers fall into two broad types – those who grow your business, and those who don’t. So in filtering your customers, you need to identify those customers who add value to your business.

Below are three steps you can take.

Step 1: Be discerning

McKinsey 5 suggests that you let go of your low-revenue customers, and protect your core customers, because they bring in the majority of your top line revenues. This core segment, argues Yonyx customer service blogger Emily Newman, 6 comprises customers who identify with the long-term goals and vision of your business, and help make your enterprise sustainable.

Who are these customers? Robert Simons, in the Mar 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review, 7 shares some convincing insights. Your primary customer, says Simons, is the one who defines your business. He recommends locating that customer’s appropriate fit with you in a three-dimensional space. The customer needs to identify with three criteria (the axes):

  • Perspective: Your company’s culture and mission, as revealed through memorable folklore
  • Capabilities: The outstanding, unique expertise embedded in the organization
  • Profit potential: The ability to contribute to your profits

Simon goes on to explain how determining your primary customer’s position implies understanding three related details: what they value; strategically adopting the appropriate business model to deliver that; and adapting to changes in the business environment through 360-degree interactivity both across your organization, and with the customer.

Step 2: Attract and respond

The Internet has forced every business worth its salt to have an online presence. Millions of products and services are being sold around the world, and competition has become intense. People all over are asking, “What’s the big deal about your business?”

But they’re also searching the Net to figure it out for themselves, because more choices mean more decisions to make. Interested buyers have more research to do. They Google you and check out what you know about what they need. In traditional marketing, businesses had to beg to get orders. But today, you attract prospects and respond to them.

How? Because at first glance, they judge you by your content marketing. And the more they engage with your content – be it your blog, your whitepapers, your social media or your videos – the higher your chances of moving them into the sales funnel. As we will see in the third article of this series, marketing automation has simplified much of that. Lead generation tools have built-in analytics features and can, for instance, help schedule social media posts, monitor leads and web conversations about you, engage leads, activate email outreach, and close sales 8. Judiciously used, they can also do a lot more.

Step 3: Learn to walk away

However, when you find a visitor who’s not engaging with you, check how well (or badly) your vision, mission, values, and corporate strategy sync with your marketing strategy, channels, and content. If there’s a mismatch, it’s time to let your visitor go someplace else.

Nick Reese’s quasi-humorous customer archetype categorization 9 – what he calls the “irrationally free”, the “price shopper”, the “value shopper”, and the “give me results” types – is useful to start with (although his argument favouring retaining the third kind is debatable). AudienceBloom Founder-CEO Jayson DeMers advises, in, 10 that you quit doing business with certain customers. These are the ones who never seem to be happy with you, he says, no matter how hard you try. They end up bleeding you of your time, money, and energy, and contribute little to your company’s revenues. Drop them, says DeMers.

Next in the series: “The Rules of Real Engagement”


[5] “Grow Fast or Die Slow: Focusing on Customer Success to Drive Growth” by Allen Miller, Ben Vonwiller, and Peter Weed, McKinsey & Co, 2016


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