Jump-Start Business Development through Customer Understanding

I believe in using systems and programs. I also believe in validating assumptions. Sales and marketing automation is certainly not a bad thing. Nor is outsourcing those activities that would otherwise place a burden on your business. And the many tools, options and tactics to improve both your top line as well as your bottom line profit should certainly not be thrown overboard. SEO, customer journey, UX, efficiency programs, Rockefeller Habits, social media, story telling sessions, big data analysis: they’re all part of the toolkit that allows you to improve your business.

However, all of it is solely intended to support your business development. None of the nifty new and hyped solutions will do anything for you, if you fail to tailor these to your needs. The actual challenge is not in using the many types of systems and protocols – I’d say there are too many companies fruitlessly spending lots of time and money on them – but the trick is to bring focus to why they are there in the first place.

Your customer!

While different technology and methods come and go, the whole concept of customers buying from companies will essentially remain the same. I am not talking about the differences between online retail and brick and mortar stores or the disruptiveness of new inventions; I am talking about the basic process of a customer being motivated to buy from a specific supplier because they offer a relevant solution that fulfills a need. That’s the starting point of any business transaction.


Customer understanding


What it all triggers can be unveiled by answering these two important questions:

  • Why are you relevant to your customer?
  • What is your relationship with the customer?

Your relationship with and the relevance for your customer depend on different levels of understanding. There are 5 levels that can be looked at with these two questions in mind:

  • Product level
  • Service level
  • Social aspects
  • Business strategy
  • Company vision


Each level by itself has its own characteristics and will hugely influence perspectives at different moments. Companies constantly communicate on these levels. Sometimes actively, mostly unconsciously. Sometimes with a focus on one, mostly unintentionally and diffusely across all of them.



The disconnect


At a trade show, a company may use a themed approach, highlighting the products on display. In a sales pitch, there could be a focus on financial benefits. Social media may be all about connecting with the install base, while the website is often very internally focused with facts and figures. When the CEO speaks with peers, it is likely to be a different conversation from a buyer talking to a supplier, or a support engineer rendering services to a user of the product. Yet, every time, all 5 levels come into play.

Truth of the matter is that companies tend to barely look at these different levels on a regular basis, let alone consider the connections between them and the customer, thereby negating the power enclosed in the dynamics between relevance and relationship.

Additionally, it is often considered a task exclusively in the domain of sales and marketing to communicate with customers. And even when companies have a good marketing approach, this doesn’t mean that the rest of the company has any notion of ‘customer understanding’.

And so, programs designed to promote and maintain customer centricity in an organization fail to deliver on their promise. In many cases this means that companies remain internally focused and emphasize merely on what they have to offer and not on what a customer thinks is worthwhile investing time and money in. It’s a missed opportunity, despite all efforts of connecting with a customer.


5 tips to jumpstart your business development


To counter the problem of such a disconnect, I’d like to share 5 tips on how to put your customer center stage and jump-start your business development.

  1. Connect with your customer. Invest in defining in-depth customer profiles (personae). Validate whether you actually understand the drivers and motivators of your customer.
  2. Stop working off of assumptions. A customer profile is more than just a collection of facts and data. Customers are people with needs and intuitive behavior. Understanding your customer is much more important than just knowing your customer. Simplified assumptions will only offer a false sense of direction.
  3. Start using your company DNA. Define which customer relations are important to your organization. Closely look at the 5 levels that define your relevance to a customer. Incorporate these in your programs and systems.
  4. Involve every member of your team. Share and discuss the personae and your DNA with the team by using tangible aids such as posters, stories, persona cards and actively talk about them during meetings.
  5. Focus. Limit yourself to a maximum of 5 personae: this will force you to strip away ballast and it allows making decisions that your key customers will benefit from. This has a direct impact on your business development.


Obviously, this is your starting point. Once you have successfully defined your company DNA or Soul Purpose and a limited set of product-market combinations and their corresponding customer profiles, it is time to incorporate them into your systems. The beauty of starting off with relevance and relationship is that the personae (your customer!) form the basis for any and all next steps, making it easier to define or feed your other programs. Creating personae may seem a daunting task, but if you use a methodology such as the one we created at Yiist – Change Agents, it can prove to be an empowering and enlightening experience.




Yiist – Change Agents offers Persona Academy based workshops that explain how to create personae and effectively use them to further develop your business. Initially, these workshops have been Dutch only, but now, Yiist – Change Agents sets out to also offer these in English.

More information about the workshop content (incl. an application form to join a workshop) can be found here (https://www.yiist.com/workshop-customer-understanding/)



Actual feedback


This is some of the feedback we received regarding our method and workshops:

“My participation in the workshop resulted to getting a better customer understanding. Our internal communication is now better tuned to our customers’ needs. After all, a customer wants to be understood” – Larissa Brouwer-Hebing.

“This lets companies consciously think about who their customers really are. It forces everyone in the organization to focus on one and the same type of customer. This should be the starting point for any company to define their policies, products and services. It’s all about being relevant to customers. To offer precisely what fits their needs. This starts with mapping out who your customer is.” – Vivian Cheung.

“Mere knowledge of customer needs is not enough for an entrepreneur. Deeper insights into the experiences of customers in relation to your organization are needed to make a difference. The Persona Academy has a systematic, logic and well-founded method to unveil these insights.” – Ed Peelen.