The Customer Isn’t Who You Think It Is


Over the past several hundred years, our society has been exceedingly successful at creating a new, artificial species: the corporation.  It has become so successful, in fact, that we consider it a legal person for all intents and purposes.  Some might be surprised to learn that corporations have the same rights and responsibilities and natural people do: they can sue and be sued, they file and pay taxes, they can be responsible for human rights violations, and so on.

The institution that we’ve built has become so well-accepted into all aspects of society that we frequently talk of it as if it were an autonomous being.  This is especially true in business settings; in the world of business-to-business commerce (B2B), “the customer” is a corporation.  In such an environment, you “close a deal with IBM”, you “have a meeting with Goldman in New York”, or you “appreciate that inContact will serve as a reference.”  We talk of these companies as if they were a single, unified entity that is removed entirely from the human beings whom make it up.  While the law considers them single entities, they’re simply not from a pragmatic perspective.

While it’s not the topic of this article, it’s worth noting that even business-to-consumer (B2C) corporations sometimes fall into an analogous trap.  With incredible advances in customer analytics, B2C corporations frequently create artificial notions of customers based on very broad categories: the “amateur biker”, the “regular visitor”, and so on.  But I digress.  Back to the B2B world.

Corporations, or companies as they’re frequently called, are part of the incredibly complex framework for commerce that humanity has created.  Consider the following three factors as you contemplate the makeup of a company.

1) Companies are nothing more than people who implement processes & technologies to sell products & services.

No matter how large the company, to which industry it belongs, or whether it sells widgets or services, all companies are founded on people.  Certainly, those people do frequently implement technology on which they depend to make their processes run smoother; but, alas, it still takes people to build and oversee that infrastructure.

2) When your company engages another company, it engages a human at that company.

While representing his or her company, it is a human who makes the buying decision, a human who calls in to Customer Support, and a human who decides you’re a good supplier with which the company should continue its relationship.  It is frequently a very small number of humans who are responsible for the relationship between two potentially large businesses.  It is no wonder that sales professionals have built a science around identifying, mapping, and leveraging the most influential humans in a company to continually improve their sales.

3) The financial value of companies in our knowledge-based economy is increasingly a function of their human capital and resulting intellectual capital.

Imagine assessing the value of an innovative software company, especially one that is a “People Company” (see the Five Stages of Software Companies); that derived value would be so tied to the talent that drives that innovation that one would be hard-pressed to argue that the value isn’t a function of that talent.  Admittedly, as companies become “Institutions” (again, see the Five Stages of Software Companies), while the particular people making up the company become less of a factor, it is still very much a function of the group of people currently at the helm.

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