What Is a Customer? Six Types

These are the people and organizations who have a need for your product or service. They purchase your stuff in exchange for money.
To enhance our understanding and comprehension of customer, I offer Webster's definition as a logical starting point: 1) a person who buys, especially on a regular basis; 2) a person with whom one must deal. At the end of the day customers are the sole provider of every business - the revenue stream that pays for everything else. You can have the best product, the best accountant, the best management, and so on, but you have nothing without a revenue stream. And the revenue stream is the direct contribution of sales, period. Nothing happens until something is sold.

Let's look at the six types of customers.

1.External Customer. These are the people and organizations who have a need for your product or service. They purchase your stuff in exchange for money. They have a budget and will give you some of it in exchange for a solution that meets their needs and expectations. Given that, I affectionately refer to external customers as ones with the bag of money. They have the financial autonomy to decide where and how they will spend their budget - the bag of money. The question is, who gets the bag of money, you or your competitor? Who has earned the confidence and trust of the customer? You and your competitor are vying for a piece of their budget - the best solution wins. Know this: Customers vote with their money and complain with their feet.

2.Allies. These are the users of your product or service, not the ultimate decision maker. These customers usually don't have a bag of money but they play a vital role in your success. They do not make the final decision but they may have tremendous impact on the outcome. They are often closely connected to the bag of money and positioning them as an ally to your cause is critical for your success. You must earn their trust and confidence if you expect them to support you at the bag of money level. A caution about allies: They have veto power, the authority to say no. They can give you a hundred no's but can't give you the one yes needed to close the deal. I have seen countless selling hours wasted on allies with the hope of closing the deal. However, allies can be a tremendous wealth of information. Pick their brains and learn how you can differentiate yourself from the competition. Customers buy differences, not similarities. It can sometimes be difficult to ascertain who the bag of money is and who the allies are. Ask questions early in the call to determine who's who in the zoo. Shrink your sales cycle by understanding the players within your accounts. Simply ask them who else may be involved with decisions.

3. Internal Customer. These are fellow employees and managers within your place of business. They support you and make you look good to your external customers. Appreciate them and treat them with respect. Unfortunately, they are often the victims of your blamefest: "The jerks in production screwed up again ..." or "The idiots in shipping messed up . . ." or "Management gave me a lousy price . . ." and so it goes. Poor internal relationships can have fatal consequences for your external customers. I recently saw an anonymous quote that supports my point. "We have less to fear from outside competition than from inside conflict, inefficiencies, discourtesy, and bad service." So true. Take ownership for customer concerns. After all, you are an ambassador for your company, so don't abdicate responsibility for late deliveries, poor service, and inadequate support. Customers really don't care whose fault a problem is or how it happened. Customers aren't interested in fixing the blame.

They want to fix the problem. It's up to you to quarterback all of the company's resources to resolve their problem.

When you work in harmony with your internal customers, external customers become the beneficiary of your internal relationships. In company after company, I see sales working in isolation from other departments. Sales cannot fly solo and expect to service the expectations of external customers. Long-term success means having your entire company and all its resources focus on its customers.

Be aware too of your own personal internal customers, such as family, spouse, and parents. View your kids, spouse, or significant other as your personal internal customers. They also deserve respectful treatment.

4.Repeat Customer. They are the jewels of your business. Do the job well the first time and you often get rewarded with another opportunity to serve them. And guess what? They give you more money! You may have heard that it costs up to five times as much to replace a customer as it does to keep one. So, keep them happy. Underpromise and overdeliver.

5.Born-Again Customer. These are previous customers who no longer do business with you. For some reason they have forgotten about you or they are still upset with you. I suggest you dig up their file, give them a call, and settle any outstanding grievance. Put your ego aside and offer restitution to satisfy the customer. Do what it takes to resolve the situation. Make amends. Very frequently they will once again be receptive to doing business with you. They often become loyal customers provided you resolve the problem to their satisfaction.

As you work with your customers, you will find the Sequential Model is applicable to all six types. Remember: Pay particular attention to your internal customers.

6.Bag of Wind. You guessed it, these people have little or no impact on the decision. They are often an easy point of entry into an account but they seldom contribute to the sales process. In fact they do more harm than good by creating a false sense of authority. There is nothing worse than wasting valuable selling hours on people who cannot help advance the sale. However, I'm not suggesting to ignore these people but rather exploit their knowledge to deepen your understanding and confidence about the account. They may also provide clarity as to who the allies are and who the bag of money is. Knowing these people can prove to be a huge advantage; knowledge is power.

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