The Sum of All Parts: Defining Your Customer


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“What’s your clientele like?”

“What industries do you serve?”

“What type of customers do you generally see?”

These are the most typical ways in which someone will ask us who our customers are. Many times, the purpose is to see whether we work in the same spaces as them or as a way of gauging whether we are “worthy” enough of having them as a customer. The approach to a customer, though, should not be focused on a certain industry or a certain aspect of the manufacturing sector. It should fill a need, one that is broad and encompasses a wide variety of industries—from at-home appliances to aerospace parts.

It is our responsibility, as the providers of a product or service, to treat an individual or group as a customer before they give us their money. To treat them any other way seems conspicuously selfish. The cliché of the aggressive, borderline-rabid salesperson is just that: a cliché. People are less and less inclined to being “pitched.”

Webster’s dictionary defines a customer as “one that purchases a commodity or service.” On the face of it, that seems like a reasonable definition. What happens, though, when 100 or 1,000 other businesses offer the same commodity or service as you? You make every effort to set yourself apart from the competition. We’ve done this by redefining what a customer is to us.

It is no longer about the product we’re selling; now it’s also about the experience. Ask yourself this question: If price was not an issue, why would your customers pick you? Even in a predominantly B2B industry such as ours, experience matters. Sellers often forget that they are not only selling a product—they’re selling themselves. Trust is the single-most important thing a person or a business can buy from you.

From there, the price of the product arguably becomes inconsequential. So, to answer the question in so many words, our customer is anybody who comes to our business looking not just for a product, but for an experience that will allow us to demonstrate why you should pick us and not the other guys.

Sam Sangani is president and CEO of PNC Inc.

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