An elderly lady just walked into your shop, looking to buy some shoes. Her daughter is with her, and both have questions they’d like you to answer.

Who’s the customer?

As you’ve guessed, it’s not just the older woman. She may be the one making the final decision, but she’s looking for advice from her daughter. It doesn’t stop there. She’s also been talking to her friends and family, which is one reason why she’s even in your shop today. And perhaps she’s received some advice from her podiatrist.

All of these people are potentially helping you to sell your shoes. Or not.

This is a powerful concept, because it helps you to create a marketing strategy which will grow your business. The podiatrist may have a need for different kinds of information than the consumer, including the results of research studies. They’ll be less concerned, perhaps, with style and price.

This customer’s family may just want to know that your shop exists and what kinds of products you carry, unless they are also part of your target market. Perhaps they are worried about Mom getting ripped off, so they’re sensitive to an honest and trustworthy relationship.

This was just a simple example. Yes, I know, your business is probably more complicated.

Suppose you sell telephone services to large and small companies. By now, you’ve adapted your approach to the fact that large companies will have myriad layers, approval processes, and decision-makers who are hard to reach.

Just because another company is smaller, though, doesn’t mean these don’t exist. Your sales process may be easier just because fewer people are involved, but that doesn’t mean that the customer’s decision is easier. In fact, decision-making in a large company can sometimes be more straightforward because it’s actually been turned into a defined process, and isn’t being invented anew for every purchase.

For your telephone services, you’ll first focus on the decision-maker. Many times this will include a tight group of advisers – people who think it’s their job to help make the decision. Beyond that may be others who have an opinion which is valued, people who are known to have useful information and viewpoints. In a case like this, it’s quite possible that there may be representatives of people who will actually use your service, whose productivity may be affected by what you provide.

It certainly doesn’t stop there. Next are industry sources who have some weight of authority. Perhaps they test your products and develop ratings and reports. In some cases they might even be hired by this company for their expertise, creating recommendations that are specific to the customer’s needs.

Going further afield, there will be less-authoritative sources. The company may find out about you via news articles and word-of-mouth. If they don’t know about you, you’ll never have the chance to be evaluated for a purchase.

This is an awful lot of people, with a wide range of different needs.
Does it get simpler just because you’re targeting phone services for small businesses? Only because there’s fewer people in number, but most of these roles still exist. And worse: It may be harder to identify the people, because they’re not acting in well-defined jobs, and information flow is more chaotic. If you’re looking for the person responsible for purchasing your services, you might get a lot of puzzled looks and guesses.

What does this mean to your marketing efforts?

When you can identify a clear role for someone, then you can create a targeted message to them. This gives them the information they need, at the right time, and helps them in their role as decision-maker, recommender, or other adviser. The recommender needs to build personal comfort that they can stand behind a decision, while another adviser will focus more on analyzing data but not taking responsibility for the decision itself.

Recommenders and advisers will look for information in certain places, and in certain ways. A well-coordinated marketing program for these telephone services will include different kinds of information on the website and other sales materials, working closely with magazines and analysts who keep on top of the industry, and campaigns which are coordinated with others’ announcements of new technology.

If you choreograph these into a beautiful dance, you’ve made it easy for your customers to make the purchase.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins. His website is

Copyright © 2012 Northern Colorado Business Report by Biz West Media.