Seth Godin and Daniel Pink are two of the most important business writers today … so it is with humility that I disagree with them. Seth wrote a blog post this week titled “Citizens,” in which he asked the question, “What do you call the people that marketers interact with? The ones who aren’t customers yet…” The answer, which Seth said came out of a conversation Dan Pink, is “citizens.”
I call them customers.
My definition of a customer is this: Anyone whose actions affect your results.
I have found this definition to be very useful, because it helps you realize that the job of sales and marketing is not to write brochures, or do ads, or make sales pitches. Sales and marketing, simply, are about encouraging people to do things that positively affect your results.
And, this definition helps you recognize that many of the people, or organizations, who affect your results don’t pay you money. Your vendors affect your results. The media may affect your results. For some of you, the government affects your results. And, people who are “prospective customers” are actually customers, since their actions can affect your results. Why not employ a good marketing approach when trying to motivate these people, even though they are not paying customers?
Relationships with customers start before they are paying customers. And, marketing doesn’t stop after a someone becomes a paying customer. (I’ll admit, I was surprised that Seth, our uber-guru of marketing, started the post by asking, “What do we call the people that marketers interact with? Those who aren’t customers yet …” He, of all people, recognizes that marketing isn’t only focused on creating new, paying customers. Just look at his concepts of Permission Marketing, Idea Viruses, Meatball Sundaes, etc. He always writes about marketing as something much more than lead generation.) The actual point at which someone becomes a paying customer is just a transition point. Yes, it is an important transition point, but it is not a discontinuity in the relationship. We don’t need to start relating to this person in a whole new way; in fact, in many cases it will seem disingenuous if we do.
I certainly agree with the post’s admonition against thinking of future paying customers as part of a “target market.” (See page 79 in We, “Marketing words that I avoid”)
But, I am committed to thinking of anyone who affects my results as a customer, even if they are not yet paying me … or will never pay me. That way, I will interact with them as a customer, and I will have a better chance of encouraging them to act in ways that drive my business results.