Customer DNA – A Different Take on Understanding Markets and Networks

My blogroll includes tech-focused blogs as well as general business sites (along with some humor). It’s an interesting cross section, that allows me to see a wide variety of reactions to news such as MacTel, Office XML, Offshoring, and other things.

The variety reminded me of an old thought exercise I led at a previous job, discussing CRM for the pharmaceutical industry and how it had so many meanings within the same relatively small group of people / departments. It’s the classic problem of how every group within the business has a different definition of “who’s the customer”; when talk turns to database design and planning for multiple attributes (oops, tech term, sorry), the process owners / business sponsors started to shift in their seats and check their watches (“IT is complicating things again …”).

To develop a better group understanding, we first sketched out the “customer spectrum” of people / organizations that the company / product / service affects, or is affected by, in any way …

CustomerSpectrum01
Click to enlarge ...

In the pharmaceutical industry, the range is broad – you go through the direct decision influencers, like the payers & prescribers, to the end consumers, who until relatively recently (ok, mid 90’s) were not subjected to the marketing efforts of big pharma. Ah, but for the “full picture” you also have to incorporate product development, and the process of getting the product to market – in this case, regulatory and opinion leaders. Not all that much different in my current line of business – direct consumers for the brand image, but more critical is the distribution channel; don’t forget the engineers that specify and approve our products, and the professional organizations whose opinion is greatly valued.

Now, when any one group / department within the company talks about “the customer”, you must always get them to be specific. Where, exactly, along this “customer spectrum” does your particular “target” reside? Each group actually targets a subset of the spectrum, and often times in very different ways, as the next sketch shows (back to big pharma) …

CustomerSpectrum02
Click to enlarge ...

Note that the Medical Marketing group is specifically prohibited from talking with consumers, the Info Services group could only talk with consumers under certain circumstances, while the consumer marketing group was highly focused on that area of the spectrum. In CRM meetings, the medical marketers had a Very Clearly Defined Vision of who the “customer” was, but you had to be very careful to avoid the shorthand of referring to prescribers as “customers”, because the message would be lost on the next internal group.

Note: I’ve mentioned this before when reviewing trading partner software – the vendor uses the word “customer” to mean … me!

Anyway, I always thought that the resultant diagrams looked like the DNA slides from those TV crime shows – always wanted to write up an article about the “customer DNA”, and how a true “full view” of the customer for a particular industry / group would understand the unique cross section of the entire customer spectrum.

Hey, I guess I just did.

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.