The “Who” and “Why” of your Target Customer

This week’s blog post is inspired by a reader who asks, “if we have a product that appeals to a wide swath of users — say, any small business owner — how do we narrow our focus?”

Here’s the secret:  your Target Customer Hypothesis itself is not as important as the reasons why you came up with that hypothesis.

If you understand why a solution isn’t right for a particular person, that gives you some insight into whom it might be “more right” for.

In the absence of actual data, pick some attributes from the “Who” column and corresponding ones that make sense from the “Why” column.

Seriously, I’m giving you permission to throw darts in this way.

It feels incredibly scary (and kind of stupid), but remember: at no point are you committing to do 100 interviews or build a whole product based on an undereducated guess.

You are committing to do 2 or 3 interviews, in order to test that undereducated guess.   Then you will have more information, which you’ll use to refine that guess.  Then you’ll do 2 or 3 more interviews, and refine again.  After that point, it’s no longer an undereducated guess — it’s a reasonable hypothesis (which you’ll continue to evolve).

WHO is our Target Customer?


  • What’s their job title? (product manager, customer service agent, small business sole proprietor, consultant, marketer, engineer, CFO…)
  • What kind of company do they work at? (small/medium/large, freeform vs. process-oriented, amount of autonomy for individuals…)
  • How is their success measured / what would earn them a bonus? (saving $, shipping product, cutting costs, reducing errors, increasing efficiency…)
  • What industry are they in?

B2C and general:

  • How do they define themselves? (teenager, mom, frequent business traveler, retiree, athlete…)
  • What’s their greatest source of stress?  (not enough $, not enough time, don’t know how to do something, health, safety…)
  • What are they trying to do?  (save $, save time, make more $, be safer/healthier, fix something that’s broken, be happier)
  • How much decisionmaking power do they have?  (need permission, can use own judgement but need to keep others happy, can issue mandates)
  • How eager are they to solve this problem?  (#1 priority, bothered by it daily, worried about it but direct no consequences of ignoring it, nice-t0-have

WHY we think this attribute is important

  • …they’re comfortable enough with technology to experiment
  • …able to make decisions without requiring approval/permission
  • …it’s easy for us to find and contact them
  • …able to be nimble and try new things
  • …have sufficient resources to try new things that have a learning curve
  • …have sufficient money to invest in solutions
  • …they recognize this is a problem
  • …they are losing money/customers because of this problem (as opposed to less painful ‘pains’ like inefficiency, lost opportunity cost)
  • …they’re willing to try anything
  • …they don’t have an alternative
  • …they have legal or process restrictions which makes it difficult for others to compete with us
  • …we think they have a huge budget available for solving this problem
  • …their job is at risk if they don’t solve this problem

You’ll want to discuss these with your team, and pick 3-5 sentences for the outline of your target customer profile.  You’ll end up with statements like:


We’re targeting product managers because they get raises/bonuses based on solving this problem.

We’re looking at medium-sized companies because they have budget allocated for solving this problem but are still nimble enough to try new solutions.

We will talk to people whose primary concern is saving money because we think that goal aligns best with our solution.


Chances are, at least one of those statements will be wrong.  But by focusing on how they’re wrong, you’ll have more insight into making them “more right”.

5 thoughts on “The “Who” and “Why” of your Target Customer

  1. I really like this article. Iteration is key and this iterative approach is exactly what The Seven Pillars of Product Management address.

    Defining ‘what and why’ of your product features will enable rapid development that STARTS from a customer-centric orientation.

    Justin T. Smith

  2. Thanks for sharing this information. I’m at the research stage for a new business I’m thinking about starting. You gave me more things to put on my To Do list.


    Susan Taylor

  3. Pingback: Quora ~

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