HBR and Strategy – Who is your Primary Customer?

The article “Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask” was re-circulated by the Harvard Business Review on Twitter. It is a great reminder of some important issues to focus on in order to make a strategy meaningful. Below are a few thoughts on the implications of the first question “who is your primary customer?” for professional services firms.

For many firms, this first question can be a particular challenge. Often professional firms are determined to be all things to all people. You’ve probably seen a line like “our clients range from entrepreneurial start-ups to multinational corporations” hundreds of times. A further challenge for professional firms exists when different practice areas within a firm genuinely have completely different customers.

But even at a practice level, a clear focus on the primary customer can be lacking. For example, an employment law practice may represent both employers and employees, but the practice is often strongly weighted to one side. Determining which side of the fence represents your primary customers and focussing marketing effort and tailoring communications messages to reflect that focus will make a far greater impact than a ‘we represent anyone’ message. This doesn’t mean you have to stop work for the other side. It simply recognizes who your primary customers are and provides the focus needed to attract them and keep that at your firm.

Even without a split between contentious and non-contentious work, many practice areas can benefit from improved segmentation of the market to determine who their primary customers are. Many firms have already recognized this and have created excellent key account programs. But targeting new business can often be haphazard instead of being a focused effort anchored by a primary customer profile based on sector, size of company, geographic location, job title or one of many other useful segmentation criteria.

Finally, for many professional practices, the primary customer may not be the end client at all. Instead referral sources may be the group which should be the recipients of the majority of your attention.

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