You Don’t Have a Customer if You Don’t Have Non-Customers

Paul Nolan

Find me a team that is having trouble with marketing and it’s a safe bet they are struggling with who their customers are and why those people should do business with them, says Jim Gray, an insightful if minimalistic blogger on all things marketing at “Or it’s a Kool-Aid answer like, ‘We’re the best.’ Why are you the best? Who says you’re the best? Where can you find more of those people?”

The biggest mistake marketers make is failing to target a specific customer. And it happens constantly, Gray states. “If you’re really the best for someone that means you’re not the best for many more people. So, who aren’t you a good fit for? How do you tell your customers apart from everyone else?

“Don’t tell me that your customer is ‘small businesses’ or ‘startups’ or ‘iPhone users.’ Those are not target customers. Those are groups of millions of people. It makes you feel like you’ve answered the target customer question, but it’s an untargetable target, a coping mechanism that lets you avoid facing discomfort.”

People choose a vague customer target because they are afraid to confront their intended customers, Gray says. But marketing is the practice of finding your customer, confronting them, convincing them to trust you — and then following through by providing value to them and ensuring that they successfully receive that value. If some of that is missing, your funnel is broken and someone will eat your lunch.

“A community of everyone is just ‘everyone.’ You won’t have created anything new. No one will have a reason to stick around. But if you focus on your core customers and treat them like they’re real people whose problems matter to you, you’ll create something that matters and which has lasting value,” Gray says.

Once you have real traction with a well-defined target customer, you’ll be the world expert in how to reach and serve those customers. This will give you a strong and lasting competitive advantage, for as long as you keep earning it. Then, you can widen your focus to people who are similar to your core customers, if not quite an ideal match.

Or you can expand into new (but related) market segments. It usually takes a mix of both. But you’ll already have real traction with your core customers, and you’ll understand why they’re doing business with you.