The term “customer” can mean different things to different people. It could refer to a potential purchaser, a current user, or a former consumer. Using Miller’s and Heiman’s Strategic Selling definitions, customer could refer to the Economic Buyer, the User Buyer, or the Technical Buyer. In Lanning’s Delivering Profitable Value, he describes a customer as someone that does/could derive resulting experiences and could be a primary customer, an intermediary, a primary customer’s customer or an off-line customer. So when someone says “customer”, you really need more information to communicate effectively.

The dimension I want to explore in this entry is the difference between a customer and an intended or target customer. It’s a good business practice to divide the market you serve into subsets, or segments, based on criteria that are meaningful for your business. Once you’ve assessed and selected the segments your company plans to target, you will have defined your intended customers. It’s this group that shares a common set of needs that you believe you can solve profitably and better than the competition.

When someone tells you, a customer has suggested an improvement, one of the questions you should ask yourself is, “is this feedback from an intended customer or not?” If it is, then it’s an important data point that may support or contradict your understanding of that segment’s needs, trends and opportunities. If it’s not from an intended customer, then you need to treat if differently. If the comment is from a potential purchaser who is trying to improve an experience on which your company is not focusing, then the request may have little value to your target segment and any effort to develop and deliver it could be reducing the return on your development investment.

Does your company have a clear definition of your intended customer? If so, how do you use it and how has it helped you?