Know Your Customer

In marketing, your first question should always be the same: Who is your customer?

A shocking proportion of companies don’t have an answer to this question, despite the fact that understanding your customer is one of the most fundamental principles in business.

A recent McKinsey & Company study of almost 700 senior executives came to the following conclusions:

  • Only 6% of companies understand the needs of their customers extremely well.
  • A whopping 45% of companies admitted to having limited or no understanding of how their customers interact with them online, a frightening statistic in our increasingly digital world.
  • 72% of the executives considered their company’s budget for customer insights inadequate (at least they understood their dilemna).

By their own admission, companies today don’t know their customers well enough. These companies would be more efficient and effective if they did.

Without customers, your business would not exist. Customers are the lifeblood of any business and must be treated as such. In order to cater to and grow your customer base, you must first know who your customers are – but basic demographic information is often too broad to rely on when building detailed marketing strategies.


Successful organizations must know more than the size of the market and the general industries or occupations to which its products may appeal. They need to know customers’ buying behavior, Internet habits, and expectations. What pain points do potential customers have? How do they shop? What is their journey with your brand, and what does their decision-making process look like? Does your message resonate with them? Why do they buy from you? Why do they buy from your competitors? How price sensitive are they?

As a business owner, you need to answer these questions before even beginning to think about a tactical plan. If you know when, where, and how the customer buys, your marketing can be focused with that moment in mind. This simultaneously improves both your sales results and the customer experience.

Knowing what customers are seeking automatically makes it easier for you to develop appropriate tactics and outreach. If you approach customers at the right moment in the right way using the right marketing channels, they are more likely to buy from you.


Understanding your customer is the foundational set of information from which all strategy flows. Spending money on one-off marketing tactics before you understand your customer is likely reckless. The challenge in knowing your customer, however, is that you actually have several types of customers, which we call “personas.”

In fact, four or five major types of customers may utilize your product or service. Practical, actionable marketing will meet each of these personas with a slightly different message and a different outreach strategy, both based on the segmentation and stratification of your customer base and target audience.

Rigorous market research is needed in order to develop core customer personas to which you can market. (See our website for an example of how to get started thinking about these personas.)


Customer insight begins with face-to-face meetings and other conversations with customers. Customer advisory boards, annual client appreciation events, company open houses, one-on-one client dinners, and Net Promoter Score surveys are excellent ways to obtain customer viewpoints to incorporate into the development of your marketing strategy. These types of grassroots initiatives bring together your team and your customers, enabling you to truly get in the heads of your customers.

Here at TribalVision, for example, we assemble customer advisory boards of five to ten clients to gather customer perspectives on our offering and to learn more about the buying journey. Consider inviting key customers to a customer summit where they can discuss thought leadership topics, along with your company’s offerings, in a comfortable environment. In exchange for their time and insight, you may want to offer participants incentives, such as product samples. Often, your customers’ greatest satisfaction comes from watching their input shape your next product or service, as their opinions come to life via your responsive development.

By involving customers in both product development and business development, you will ensure that you deliver the right product in the right way. Customers may attend a thought leadership event believing that they are the sole beneficiaries, but you will also learn how to improve your company.

Besides a company summit, there are other ways to learn from your customers about what you are doing right, how you can improve, and what your customers want in the long run. To better understand the decision-making process of your customers, consider partnering with a survey company, tracking online behavior, using online crowdsourcing platforms such as GutCheck, engaging on social media, and leveraging a database marketing firm that can provide key insights into your current customers.


Form a customer-centered committee comprised of people from the marketing, sales, business development, and operations areas of your company. This team should research and discuss tactics, such as advisory boards, Net Promoter Score surveys, customer summits, and data management platforms, in order to determine the best first steps for your company to get closer to its target audience. This market research can also help you to develop the company’s core buyer persona – keeping in mind these personas will help you to message and perform outreach far more effectively than you otherwise could. By having a specifically customer-focused team in place, you will ensure that obtaining and incorporating customer insights becomes a part of your company’s daily routine. You can place the responsibility for that team under a chief customer officer (CCO) who, as the customer champion of your company, can ensure follow-through on everything that this team discovers.