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Customer Definition May Be More Important Than Category Definition

by Hank Barnes  |  May 23, 2017  |  Submit a Comment

For many startups, the nirvana is the creation of a category.  By creating the category, you establish the leadership position in it.   But category creation is not easy.   It takes a lot of investment and requires broad support–from customers, investors, influencers, partners.

In many cases, we advise emerging providers that don’t have that opportunity to start by positioning within an existing category.   That too, brings some challenges.  For example, if the existing category is largely mainstream, then a new supplier needs to find a way to build trust with mainstream buyers.  The early adopters have moved on.  So, while customers may be early adopters of your product, they aren’t early adopters.  They’ll have different expectations.   The mismatch between the adoption life cycle of your product and the market adoption life cycle is a significant risk to success.

And while I believe category is important (it provides grounding and context for recognition and discussion), maybe there is too much focus there.    I’m now of the mindset that they most important area of focus is customer definition–in excruciating detail.


What does your ideal customer look like?   Size of business?  Other technology they deploy?  Business Approach?   Strategic initiatives?  Competitive Situation?  Buying Approach?  Enterprise Personality?   and the list could go on.

If you put customer definition at the front of your strategic efforts you gain clarity for other activities.  Product decisions can be framed based on the value to that customer.   Storytelling is aligned to the customer.  Every sales planning or review discussion can start with the customer–understanding their situation and where they are in their process (including recognizing that many may not have a process and they’ll be open to a prescriptive approach from you).

How complete and detailed is your customer definition?

Category: go-to-market  

Tags: category  customer  customer-centricity  positioning  strategy  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
5+ years at Gartner
30 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to positioning, storytelling, the technology customer life cycle, and customer experience. Read Full Bio

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