Who is the customer?

Who is the customer?


A market is a job and a job executor. This is all we need to know to understand the answer to the question, “Who is the customer?”

To better explore this question – let’s begin with this: The goal of innovation is to help a customer to accomplish a job perfectly.

Question: Who gets to say what “perfect” is?
Answer: The customer (of course).
Question: Who is the customer?
Answer: The person executing the job.

We innovate for the person executing the job. They’ve felt the pain of the errors. They know all the irritating imperfections. They will be more than happy to fill your ears full of their troubles.

We analyze job executors as if studying a new culture. They have the information we need – and it consists of the rocks the inhibit perfection. We interview them. We observe them. We study their artifacts and do our best to understand their world.

If we want to learn what it means to prepare a meal perfectly, we must identify people who prepare meals. If we want to understand what it means to learn a new skill perfectly, we must identify people who learn new skills.

We call the person who executes the job the “job executor.” (Intuitive, no?) Though I do submit that “job executor” doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily. However, it’s much clearer than overly simple term “customer” that we kick around in our conversation like a hacky sack. Just like any technical terminology, it’s precise and beautiful in it’s clarity. You confuse me when you say “customer” but when you say, “job executor”, we are communicating.

The word “customer” could mean many things. It could mean job executor. It could also mean purchase influencer, job beneficiary, etc.

But “job executor” has only one meaning: the person who executes the job.

If we want to innovate for the job of losing weight, we must ask the question, “Who wants to lose weight?” This wonderful question spawns more: Do we want to study this job for everyone who wants to lose weight or just certain segments? Men over 40? Obese teenagers? New mothers?

But you protest still. You say, “We’re in B2B, and our markets are complex. We have to study more than just job executors.”

Yes, it is true that your markets are complex. But no, you’re still studying job executors.

Imagine you are producing hydraulic hoses for small tractors. You might identify the following stakeholders: procurement person, design engineer, product marketing manager, and manufacturing engineer. Consider the jobs that these folks will execute as they consume your product:

Procurement person: Purchase a hose.
Design engineer: Design a hydraulic system for a tractor.
Product marketing manager: Ensure that the tractor will have a valid value proposition.
Manufacturing engineer: Ensure the manufacturability of new tractors.

Some of these jobs are directly related to your hose such as “design a hydraulic system.” Others are more indirect such as “Ensure that the tractor will have a valid value proposition.”

If you are creating a new hydraulic hose, you will likely have to consider more than one job…. but don’t be seduced by the “our markets are more complex” line. Yes, there’s complexity. But so what? The markets you serve will still consist of jobs and job executors.

You might just have to work a bit to identify them.

Of course, we will still have to use the word “customer” because we can’t expect everyone to suddenly use our precise language. You are now like the scientist who sees a loblolly pine tree and recognizes it as a Pinus taeda. But with your less learned friends, you might still just call it a pine tree.

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