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By Michael Gantner, Principal, nthimpressions: Your Marketing Pulse

When speaking with a manufacturer about marketing, I usually begin with, “So, tell me about your company…what do you do?”.  Everyone can answer that one in great detail, often expounding on their product and service virtues for as long as I will listen to them. 

On one level, that’s great, because you need to have passion about what you do before you can get others excited about it.  But rattling on and on can also be a problem; the best answers are short, sweet, and complete, with brief, specific details that show the company knows exactly who they are.

The next line of inquiry is typically, “Describe your customers for me…who are they and why do they buy from you?”  Far too often, the response starts with a pause, then a hesitating answer, usually focused on naming some of their biggest customers with a two or three-word description of what each does. 

Then, another pause ensues as they realize they’re not entirely satisfied with their response.  Almost inevitably, they ask their people in the meeting how they’d answer.  Opinions fly.  As I probe more quickly into specifics, people tell me what they think, not what they know.  Definitive, quantifiable answers are elusive.  That’s problem two.

What we’re talking about is your customer profile.  Highly successful manufacturers know exactly how to answer important questions like these, and they can do so with concise, sharp, definitive answers.  Their deep knowledge of customers drives their decisions on everything from what they make, to what services they offer, their marketing messaging, their sales and marketing strategy, and more.

Since most manufacturers operate in a business-to-business environment, selling to and through distributors, wholesalers, contractors, and retailers, this quiz is focused on B2B customer profiling.  B2C profiles get more deeply into consumer demographics and psychographics, but that’s for another article.    

Time for the POP QUIZ.  See how quickly you can answer these questions with specific, definitive replies.  Ask others in your company to do the same.

  1. “What industries are your clients in?”
  2. “Which of those industries do you sell the most to?”
  3. “Who should you be selling more to?”
  4. “How much is your average sale?”
  5. “Is your average sale different for different market segments?”
  6. “What type of customer brings you the highest margins?”
  7. What’s most important to them…price, service or quality?”
  8. “Tell me about customer buying patterns…ongoing, periodic, seasonal?”
  9. “How big are your customers in terms of their annual sales volume or revenue?”
  10. “Where are they located geographically?”
  11. “Why do they buy from you instead of your competitors?”
  12. “What do they want and need from you?”
  13. “Do different types of customers have different needs and wants?”
  14. “How many customers do you have in each of your top three industries?
  15. “How many potential customers are out there?”
  16. “What other markets would you be selling to?”
  17. “Which markets have the greatest potential for growth?”
  18. “Are your target markets growing or in decline?”
  19. “How do you find customers?”
  20. “How do they find you?”

How’d you do?  Do you feel good about your answers?  How often did you answer based on gut instinct, versus tangible, supportable knowledge?  Did others in your company give the same answers?  Not sure?

If you struggled with the quiz or got different answers from different people, then you should do some homework.  Answer what questions you can with information you already have in house, then consider speaking with a marketing research expert who can help you define your customer profile. 

Experts in the field will have access to tools and resources not immediately available to you, and they’ll bring you objective, third party reports that minimize bias.  A professionally done customer profile gives you actionable information you need to help your company grow, so you can plan and implement strategies based on what you know, not just what you think.