B2B Core Customers Are Individual People

If you have a B2B company, I’d like to challenge you to think differently.

When we think “business to business,” it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about demographic information about the companies you target. They are in Oregon, for example, have annual revenue between $15M and $150M, and have between 50 and 500 employees, therefore they need our service.

The reason I say it’s a trap, however, is because a business doesn’t buy from you, a person does. And while true that this person works at an Oregon business with revenue and employees, that person also has their own needs, wants, and fears. Those wants, needs and fears are ultimately why anyone buys from you, no matter what company they work for.

We love the way Bob Bloom talks about Core Customer in his book the Inside Advantage. A core customer exists in your customer base today. They are a real person with wants, needs and fears. They buy from you for optimal profit. Think beyond just revenue or initial gross margin dollars. Think about the value of the support calls they don’t make to you, or the referrals they bring to you, or the year 2 add-on services they buy from you, etc.

B2C examples:

  • Juicy Juice thought they were selling to kids watching Saturday morning cartoons (this was back in the late ‘80s), but quickly realized that their core customer was a mom concerned about her kids getting enough nutrition. They changed the name of the product to Juicy Juice 100% Real Juice. A few years later they created one of the first websites to go beyond brochure-ware. It featured developmental experts with articles about the ages and stages of child development. Notice how that kind of educational content is exactly what their core customer would want to ease her fears. It’s not about juice, it’s about their core customer who wants her kids to be healthy!
  • A winery naively thought their customer was anyone who wanted to drink wine. Doing the work, however, they discovered a certain well-connected, social, married couple who liked to organize gatherings with friends. This changed their marketing strategy. Not only did they create partnerships with a local radio station to bring concerts to the winery itself, they also created a wine club where this core customer couple could have regular gatherings at their own home and always have new kinds of wine to show off to their friends.

Many executives we work with find it easy to understand B2C examples, but somehow think B2B is different. It’s not. There may be more stakeholders to a complex B2B sale, and you definitely need to take into account their different needs, wants and fears, but the core customer analysis still applies.

  • A company selling specialized metal gates used to think their core customers were municipal water systems. What they realized doing the analysis was that their core customer is actually the engineer that writes the specification for the project, even though that engineer does not make the purchasing decision and does not sign the check. That engineer fears a water-system failure that would jeopardize their career. Notice that the purchasing people who actually make the final decision might be concerned with price, but the specifications written by the engineer will ultimately carry the day.
  • A company selling marketing services to SAAS (software as a service) companies thought that any SASS company would do. What they realized doing the analysis was that their core customer is a CEO or other leader with budget authority who is worried that all their investments in technology won’t pay off if they can’t find enough buyers. Marketing isn’t a nice-to-have or an afterthought for this person. They know that getting the word out in an effective way is essential to their success. In fact, when they dug deeper, they discovered that humility was an essential character trait for this buyer as well because that’s a person to whom they can sell high-value strategic services, not simply commodity execution of the customer’s idea.

If you’d like to talk over your core customer, or would like me to send you a tool to help you think through your core customer definition, please email [email protected]

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