Choosing a Direction

Purposeful Marketing Method: Great Customers – Yours and Theirs

Let me tell you a story about a woman named Maggie. 

About six months after I moved to a neighborhood just north of Pasadena, I signed up for a boot camp. On the first day, I got paired in an exercise with a woman named Maggie. As we were rowing a band back and forth, I decided to make small talk to distract myself from the pain my out-of-shape body was feeling. 

“So, what do you do?” I asked. 

“I’m a Landscape Designer,” she said.  

“How serendipitous!” I yelped. “I just bought a home that needs a LOT of landscaping work. Can I get your card?” 

We set up a time for her to come to my house and take a look at what we were hoping to do. One morning, after another treacherous boot camp, she came by and I began explaining to her my vision for the yard. 

“I want artificial turf in the front, so everything looks clean…” 

“No, I wouldn’t recommend that.” She said. She went on to explain how her work is about using all-natural plants and grass with a strong emphasis on drought-tolerant species. It was clear that she was BRILLIANT when it came to this stuff. She knew every plant, how they would survive in my front and back yards, and had a million suggestions for other plants, flowers, and sod I had never heard of, KurapiaKurapia took less water and would give me everything I wanted. 

I left the meeting deciding two things were true:  

  1. Maggie was great at her job and there was a reason why she is one of the highest-reviewed landscape designers in my area. 
  2. I was not going to be her customer. 

Maggie has an incredible point-of-view. She’s a green thumb. She knows how to get the best plants to grow in the toughest places at the cheapest prices. She cares so much about her customers and her work. That is her priority. 

My priority, however, was completely different. I work at a Creative Agency and I am obsessed with clean and sophisticated design. I think Kurapia and other plants look wild and out-of-whack. They are not at all a part of my vision. I wanted my Pinterest boards full of turf, rocks, and floating decks to come to life. 

I love this example because it perfectly illustrates how to be a great business person through the lens of losing a customer. Maggie knows who she is, stands for something, and resonates with our neighborhood.  As a result, she has a successful business. However, we don’t have the same priorities or shared beliefs, which means I’m drawn more to a competitor. And that’s okay, we see this with big brands all the time.  

Starbucks is for yuppies. Dunkin Donuts is for the blue-collar worker. Yetis are an eco-friendly product for people who want their beer cold at a NASCAR race and their coffee warm while hunting in the winter. Patagonia makes eco-friendly clothing for people that share their love of nature and land conservation. 

Having a point-of-view that resonates with a target market is not new in the B2C space. However, B2B has been a little slow to play catchup. A lot of this can be attributed to the number of niche industries we see in B2B, usually with a smaller pool of market share available.  

But with competition consistently on the rise, businesses need to find a way to stand out in a crowd. The answer is to have the courage to have a point-of-view and identify Great Customers who share it 

Now let’s be clear what a point-of-view is and what a point-of-view is not.

A point-of-view in this prism simply means the brand has prioritized non-business factors that can be shared with an audience. Seth Godin uses this concept in his 2019 book, This is Marketing, using the phrase “people like us, think like this.” So this doesn’t mean your business should engage in some “MSNBC vs. Fox News” political battle. It just means that outside of business, your brand should cling to something that matters. 

 Let’s use a couple of examples in the B2B space to give you a better idea of the concept. 

I have a client, YouBar, which is a leading contract manufacturer of protein bars. Companies come to them and YouBar formulates, develops, and packages the delicious protein bars you see on the shelves in Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and your local grocery store. They’re an industry leader and are consistently approached by leading breakfast brands of the past about creating a new bar for them. 

Unfortunately for the old guard, YouBar is not interested in them. 

YouBar is interested in innovation. As new food diets and trends emerge, they want to help their customers, the brands selling the Protein Bars in the stores, by supplying them with the most cutting-edge options available. They see the space as a frontier for innovators. They don’t believe that the consumer is looking for a new bar from a General Mills or a Kellogg’s, but rather, gets excited by the newSo they partner with these emerging brands and showcase to them the opportunities at hand. They have seen these startups grab market share for the past decade and don’t see things changing anytime soon.  

They value innovation and the new, and so they work with companies trying to create the Protein Bar of the future as a result. 

On the other hand, my agency, ATAK Interactive, has zero interest in working with startups, even when VC funded with a healthy budget. Startups utilize the old cliché “work fast and break stuff” and we’ve seen the amazing technological advances that have resulted with that mentality.  

However, it’s not how we want to help companies market their products and services. We believe in laying a foundational strategy and helping companies pragmatically grow. We don’t want to break anything and we’re not in a hurry to have companies spend away a lot of money without knowing why they’re doing it. 

Startups prioritize and value speed. We prioritize and value purpose. Neither of us is wrong, and that’s okay. 

In the aforementioned This is Marketing by Seth Godin, he lays out the idea of the Customer Promise: 

Blank Simple Marketing Promise worksheet

Part one of our “Great Customers” exercise is challenging businesses to fill this out honestly. I emphasize honestly because this is a much harder exercise for businesses to grasp. They constantly are looking for outs. If I gave the CFO the option to fill out this chart, here’s what it would look like: 

Completed Simple Marketing Promise worksheet

And that’s why they’re the CFO and they should count all of our numbers and leave the storytelling and brand resonating to those of us that utilize the left side of our brain.  

Taking a shortcut on this exercise is easy, but it doesn’t help businesses get where they need to get, which is admitting that there are certain types of customers that are GREAT customers, however, they are not your great customer. 

Let’s repeat for all the business owners reading out there who are trying to skim over this part because they don’t want to believe it – “there are GREAT customers out there who are NOT your great customer.” 

Before we make these stunned and saddened business owners identify who this person is, let’s really honein on what makes our Great Customer using the lens of the Customer Promise. 

1: Our product/service is for people who believe…  

For most brands, this does not need to be anything political or controversial. But we need to put a priority on something. What is it?  

An IT company I did this exercise with decided their answer to this question was “people who believe that technology is an essential component to their business development.”  

That makes sense. IT companies sell automation, efficiency, and security tools. If you think these are important, you’d align with them.  

2: I will focus on people who want… 

This takes “belief” one step ahead and brings in “ambition.” What does our target customer want? And again, avoid the easy cliché answer here. All businesses can say they want “to grow the company.” That’s a given. But why does this company exist in the first place? And what’s its grand purpose? Where is it headed? 

3: I promise that engaging with what I make will help my customers… 

This is a key component of this exercise. Part of running a great business is identifying where your product or service is the best solution. Ask yourself “who can we REALLY help better than our competition? And why is that?” Nobody likes admitting they aren’t the best answer to this question, especially when their company has the capability to fulfill the order. 

But if you go to the “Mom Lens,” that is, pretend that the customer is your mother who you love deeply and only want to pair her with the best solution for her problemLooking through that lens, where are you the answer? How will you help these types of customers?  

When we add these all up, it becomes clear: we can identify the psychographics that makes up our GREAT customer. Regardless of Persona type, which focuses more on demographics, ALL customers we go after should share these three attributes. 

Now comes the hard part: Identifying the GREAT Customer that is not yours. 

For this, we flip the Customer Promise on its head: 

Blank "Great Customer That Isn't Mine" template

Uh oh. Now it gets hard. Let’s go back to our old friend, the CFO, to identify the “cop-out” way of answering this: 

Completed "Great Customer That Isn't Mine" template

What’s the big problem with these answers? These characteristics don’t make a Great Customer. They make a very, very bad customer. They’re rude and don’t want to pay full price. 

But there’s plenty of customers out there that are great that are not yours. Before we dissect the questions, let’s be clear on the purpose of this exercise: understanding how to build a stronger brand by identifying who does and who does not resonate with your beliefs. This does not mean that any successful company with strong relationships should fire a great customer that doesn’t fit this exercise to a T. It means that we will move forward trying to connect with our Great Customer and not waste time chasing someone else’s Great Customer. Is that clear? Good, let’s start the breakup process… 

1: Our product/service is NOT for people who prioritize… 

Thinking of your shared beliefs from the first part of the exercise, you can see that there’s a thread between your beliefs and your priorities. What is the opposite of that?  

Using our IT company as an example, if they resonate with people who believe in the role of technology with business development, then it’s fair to say that the Great Customer who is not theirs prioritizes efforts other than operational efficiency for their growth. Or maybe they just prioritize everything above technology until their computer stops working and they need to be bailed out. 

When you dig deep, you realize that the priority of the Great Customer who is theirs is proactive with their technology needs where the Great Customer who is not theirs is more reactive. Reactive clients pay bills on time, they have computers that break down, and they can be perfectly nice when troubleshooting a problem. But for this IT company that believes so deeply in the opportunity of using technology as a biz dev tool, they recognize that the reactive client takes a lot of the time to troubleshoot the kind of problems they are proactively avoiding with their Great Customer.  

2: I will AVOID people who want… 

Are our ambitions aligned? Do we both see the Promised Land as the same place? 

This is a good opportunity to go back to the idea of the customer as the hero and you as the guide. If Luke Skywalker’s ambition is to go somewhere Yoda can’t guide him to, then there’s probably a better guide for Luke, right? 

Think about where a Great Customer may want to go that isn’t the Promised Land you can help guide him or her. Again, no cop-outs. Different directions don’t mean one direction is bad, it just means it’s different.  

3: I can’t help customers that are hoping to… 

You’re not as good for this customer as one of your competitors. Admit it. It will set you free and help you run a more honest and effective operation. I’ll give you an example. 

I’ve recently explored the idea of building a sales team. I sat down with a sales consultant whose company prides itself on being able to build out effective sales teams. He asked me a bunch of questions about my operation before politely telling me his company could not help. 

They were more geared for SaaS sales, not services, typically coming in when a team had at least three reps and needed additional support and structure.  

How did I react to that? It made me love the guy. We spoke for another hour or two and he led me to resources and vendors much more in line with what I need. If I ever get the chance to send him business, I’ll do it in a heartbeat. 

And that’s the magic here. By identifying the Great Customers that are yours and those that are theirs, you’re creating an authentic business that makes you 1000x more likable. You are being realistic about who you can help and setting your company up to have success when you do get the customer. You’re building trust with your team and your prospects by being clear about your capabilities and strengths. 

Trust, authenticity and a point-of-view that resonates will give you the bump you need against the rising competition. You’ve got the opportunity, now you need the courage to go through this exercise and break up with a Prospect Archetype you’ve long known you needed to walk away from. Be bold, be brave, and most importantly, be honest with your company and who you can help.  

Purposeful Marketing Method: Conducting Customer List Analysis

Many companies get lost with data and for good reason. First, there are thousands of metrics a company can track and only a few of them actually matter, despite what vendors with outside interests may believe. For companies trying to get a grasp of their data setup, the Customer List is the gateway into beginning to understand their current data landscape. Through reviewing key variables from past efforts, we create a baseline for our upcoming activity.

Step One: Build the List

The list is easy-to-build, but depending on the number of customers you have, it can be a little tedious. To begin, go to QuickBooks or your bookkeeping software. Export your paying customers from the past 12 months and sort from the highest revenue generator to the lowest.

Add a row above and create the following headings:

  • Column A – Customer Name
    • Sort by the highest paying customer
  • Column B – Gross Revenue
    • The amount each customer has paid the past twelve months
  • Column C – Persona Type
    • Not all customers may apply to this. Only put the label on customers you would consider “ideal” if they were not already.
  • Column D – Acquisition Channel
    • Where did the customer come from?
  • Column E – Revenue Streams
    • Which stream did they pay you for? Only identify one stream per customer, and if there are more than one, choose which one they paid the most for.
  • Column F – New Customer?
    • Identify if this customer was a first-time customer within the 12-month period of the export.

Thanks to the bookkeeping export, you should have columns A and B already filled out. Before going in and filling out the rest, add a row at the very top of the document. In Column A, type in “Marketing Spend”. Merge Columns B-F into one. Type in your marketing spend from the last 12 months. If this is not something you’re currently tracking, listing a ballpark figure is alright, but make sure you include EVERYTHING – human capital, systems, events, advertising dollars, etc.

Your sheet should look like the example below:

Now go through and fill out each column for every customer.

Note that if you want to work with a PMM implementor or an outside consultant, but you do not want to advertise your customer list to this person (or go through the NDA process with them), you can simply copy and paste column A from the example below and rename each customer “A,” “B,” and so forth. Who they are will not matter during the data exercises ahead, and the implementor does not need to know the actual company name to help you complete the work.

Before we move to step two, let’s use an example to help us illustrate what we’re trying to do. A young software company, we’ll call them “Young Software, works with professional service companies to streamline their project management, invoicing, and customer service.  

We will fill out their Customer List based on the following criteria of Young Software: 

12 Month Marketing Spend: $400,000 

Customers – 26, which we will name each letter of the alphabet 

Gross Revenue – $2 million 

Target Personas:

  • Accountant Ally
  • Lawyer Lou
  • Ellie Insurance

Acquisition Channels:

  • Referrals
  • Direct Mail Campaigns
  • Website/Search
  • Trade Shows
  • Cold Calling

Revenue Streams:

  • Monthly subscriptions
  • Software Development Kits
  • Enterprise Custom Solution

Here’s what their hypothetical customer list looks like:

Step Two: The Calculations

Alright, we’ve done the tedious part – we got all of the information into the right places. Now comes the fun part – putting these numbers together and learning what they mean. 

Here’s the list of calculations we’re looking to fill in: 

  • Gross Revenue 
  • Annual Value of a Customer*** 
  • New Customers 
  • Average New Customer Value 
  • Cost-Per-Acquisition 
  • Customer Value Per Revenue Stream 
  • Customer Value Per Acquisition Channel 
  • Customer Value Per Persona 

 ***Note: A more popular metric among marketers is the “Lifetime Value of a Customer.” However, this is one of the easiest pieces of data to manipulate, so we strip it down to something more concrete, the annual value.  

Here’s how we calculate each: 

  •  Gross Revenue 
    • Sum of all customers’ revenue 
  • Average Customer Value 
    • Gross Revenue divided by the number of total customers 
  • New Customers 
    • Sum of all customers marked as “new” 
  • Average New Customer Value 
    • New customer total divided by the gross revenue from all new accounts 
  • Cost-Per-Acquisition 
    • Total Marketing Spend divided by new customers 
  • Customer Value Per Revenue Stream 
    • For each stream, take the sum of each account that came from that stream and divide it by the total amount of accounts within the stream. 
  • Customer Value Per Acquisition Channel 
    • For each channel, take the sum of each account that came from that channel and divide it by the total amount of accounts from that channel. 
  • Customer Value Per Persona 
    • For each persona, take the sum of each account that you identify as that persona and divide it by the total amount of accounts listed as each persona. 

Using “Young Software” as our example, below is what we’ve calculated for their company. Notice we highlight in green where we see a positive outlier and in red where we see a negative outlier:

Step Three: What are we Looking For with These Calculations?

 When going through the Customer List, you’re identifying the starting point for your upward trajectory. You want more clients, at higher price points and to get them, you need to understand where you are today. 

One of the most impactful elements of the exercise is identifying outliers. Outliers can be good, and when they are, we highlight them in green. When they are bad, we go with red. 

Looking back at Young Software, we see that they have one revenue stream that significantly brings in larger accounts, their Enterprise Custom Solutions. Yet, ECS accounts are only about 20% of their total amount of customers. What’s happening within the company between the numbers? How much money is being spent on getting these types of customers versus the monthly subscriptions? How many people does it take to staff one of these accounts? Is the profit margin higher for ECS accounts as wellKnowing these accounts are significantly higher in value, how will we take this to our upcoming marketing efforts? 

On the flip side, we recognize that we have a Persona, Ellie Insurance, that makes up almost half of the clientele and yet, is about a 20% lower account size on average than the other personas. Why is this? How is this impacted by the marketplace? Are there just more insurance agents that need the software than lawyers?  

The answers to these questions can only come from getting everyone together to look at what the numbers are. When you go through the entire customer list and put labels on your current clientele based on the work you put in during Brand Day, you’re gathering intelligence on how you will move forward once you draw out your Marketing-to-Sales Maps. You see how your current Revenue Streams stack up, where you’re having success acquiring customers, and which Personas carry the most value to you. You start seeing numbers that you never considered before.   

Conclusion 

You’ve calculated the important numbers. You know the variables specific to your business. Now close this exercise by discussing the 7 questions below. Answer in no more than 2 sentences for each question and take no more than 30 minutes to complete. Put the answers away somewhere you can access them because they’re going to come in handy later in the Method. 

1. We are spending $________ to acquire one customer. Knowing this, are we spending this $_________ the most effective way? 

2. What do we think would be more effective – spending more money on marketing or throwing out the things that are not working and lowering our cost-per-acquisition? 

3. How can we increase our Annual Value of a Customer? 

4. Based on the data we have reviewed, what do we need to consider regarding our revenue streams? 

5. Based on the data we have reviewed, what do we need to consider regarding our acquisition channels? 

6. Based on the data we have reviewed, what do we need to consider regarding our personas? 

7. Given our business, what other columns could be added to this sheet that may help us better understand our customers?