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The Keys to Commercialization: A Series

April 3rd, 2012 | by Michael Kurek
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Part 3:  Understand the Buying Process to Identify Customers

Who is your customer? It’s a deceptively simple question … but many entrepreneurs we work with at BBC have no ready answer.

Perhaps, the more relevant question is: what is a customer? Is the customer the end-user of your product, the person that makes the buying decision, or the actual purchaser? In many cases these are one-and-the-same individual. But often it’s not that simple. So you need to carefully analyze the market environment in which your product or service will exist.

For example, if you’re selling a new pain medication to a health maintenance organization (HMO) the end-user is obviously the patient. However, the physician makes the prescribing (i.e., buying) decision, and the purchasing department places the order. But that’s not all. The critical “influencer” or gatekeeper in the buying decision is the HMO’s formulary committee. If they don’t add your medication to their list of approved drugs, there is no sale. So who really is the customer?

What we’re actually talking about here is the buying process, and critical marketing decisions will need to be made based upon, first, a thorough understanding of that process, and second, getting your planning in step with the process.  Always be guided by customer behavior, not your thoughts about how the customer should be behaving.

The more you know about the steps leading up to a “buy” decision and the better you understand the roles and players along that path, the more adept you will become in anticipating customer needs and tailoring your product or service to meet them.  It turns out that “The customer always comes first” is not a cliché, but a sage piece of timeless advice.

Next up:  Matching Product Features to Customer Needs

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Michael Kurek, PhD, MBA, is a partner with BBC.  Over his career, Dr. Kurek has demonstrated success on an international scale in defining new product opportunities, developing sales and marketing strategies, and recruiting and managing teams to deliver growth. He advises BBC clients in evaluating commercialization alternatives for their technology, product, or service.

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