In the past few weeks, the same question of “who is your customer” has been discussed. Each of these conversations were completely unrelated to each other, but the general content was the same. So, it was with much delight that I saw Seth Godin wrote a post about this:

Either you’re selling to people who are hungry for what you offer, who are open to hearing what you have to say, who are fans… Or you’re selling to people who are actively protecting themselves, guarding against interruption or a mistake or worse… How can you possibly have a strategy about what you’re going to do next until you determine which mindset you’re marketing to?

The idea of customer mindset is very important because it affects how these people should be approached. One of the recent conversations that I mentioned occurred during an interview at my day job. The prospective employee asked how we competed with EMC, IBM and Microsoft. It is an interesting question because we sell enterprise software, but our product typically does not get compared to products from companies like EMC, IBM and Microsoft.

The difference comes from our targeted customer base. Even though our product is considered enterprise software, it is a different class of software than your traditional RDBMS or other IT related software. Because our software solves business problems, we sell to people on the business side of companies, not the IT group.

Of course this lead to the question of why? It is all about expectations. As I had talked about a few weeks ago:

So, in the area of expectations, who do you expect to be your users? Are you expecting your users to be typical early adopters? Or is your target mainstream users? Mainstream users have different expectations as well. They are not as forgiving as early adopters, but they will live with some smaller defects.

That post was more about the usability of your application, but figuring out who your customers should be similar. A business manager or owner wants to know how your product will help them solve their problems. This is a very different experience than pitching your product to an IT group. The IT manager will ask about standards compliance, integration with existing infrastructure like Oracle databases, load balancers and clustering solutions.

These expectations can lead to product design decisions as well. If your focus is on the business user, then  you are likely going to load your applications with tons of features. You will want to focus on solving business problems. You will promote use-cases that you support, integration with email and Microsoft Office applications, and the ROI of using your product. You will also likely have a focus on application usability, knowing that your users may not be the most technically savvy.

If you want to focus on IT infrastructure, then you will ensure that you support all of the major database vendors, work with a majority of load balancing hardware, and provide clustering abilities within your application. You will talk more about required disk space, memory footprints, general performance and scalability. The product will probably include a lot of configuration documentation so that the IT department will know how to configure the application appropriately for various installation scenarios. You may also include hooks into various network and application management applications, and support for things like SNMP.

The biggest mistake that you can make when selling software to a company is selling inappropriately to the group involved. If you talk about solving business problems to the IT group, they will think that you are hiding some infrastructure deficiencies. If you talk about clustering to the business teams, they will either look at you funny or just mumble to each other that it is something IT cares about. In both cases, you could quickly lose the sale.

So, who are you selling to? Are you trying to break into a new customer? What expectations will they have?

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