VISA failed to articulate its ideal customer and missed that boat. In the customer led 21st C, banks couldn’t remain it. The argument that it is banks that should push VISA card usage and not VISA itself has seen average individual card usage down to one a month from three, in 2013.

“Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?” So went musician Eminem’s 2000 hit song. To paraphrase his dilemma in the song, many times businesses find themselves wishing they could ask, “Will the ideal customer please stand up?” This is because, to articulate ideal customer is not always as easy as it may seem; still, it is an indispensable necessity in selling.

Case study

Take the case of the lady who wants to offer private school transport. Who is her ideal customer? Is it the school or the parents whose children she will be carrying?  One could argue it’s both. Because it’s private transport (not a school bus), it becomes necessary to pitch to the parent through the school. What do I mean? Each of these customers has different objectives.

Articulate ideal customer

For the school, it’s most likely the extent to which it will be involved. Ideally, the school would wish to exclude itself from the equation because it lacks control over the transport as it would have if it was its school bus. Yet, at the same time, the school needs the transport problem sorted because it’s affecting enrolment. Prospective parents lament how difficult it is to access the school. And so, the sales lady in her pitch to the school will want to demonstrate confidence and assurance to the school via, say, her track record.

Whereas the school may be appeased by this, it’s the parents who will ‘buy’ and they are a different kettle of fish. The confidence and assurance they seek is how safe their children will be; the calibre and accessibility of the driver; the type and comfort of the vehicle, etc.  The inability to pitch to both can be the cause of losing the sale. In this case, if you must only pitch to one, then ‘the real Slim Shady’ is the parent. Convincing her can get her to influence the school.

Articulate ideal customer in the finance world

This is the challenge that the continually evolving changes in the financial world continue to present. For decades, fintechs (financial technology firms) saw the banks as their customers. All we have to do, they would reason, is offer the bank infrastructure (like the core banking system, ATMs, online platforms, apps, etc.).

Yet the user was not the bank but the bank’s customers. And all was well until disruption happened and some technological firms found that they could get to ‘the real Slim Shady’ without going through the bank. The many that haven’t are finding their businesses under threat because banks are adopting their own technologies.  Those who have, like wildly successful M-Pesa, have demonstrated just how much sales potential had been lying untapped.

VISA failed to articulate ideal customer

Unfortunately, VISA missed that boat in Kenya. The insistence on selling themselves as a platform to banks and not the end user has ended up costing them, in my view. The argument that it is banks that should push the Visa card usage and not Visa itself has seen average individual card usage down to one a month from three in 2013, and mobile money usage more than double over that period (CBK statistics). Yet, the Visa option is free and the M-Pesa one, not. And now, Visa is playing catch-up with its current promos targeting ‘the real Slim Shady’.

Selling houses and customer identification

When the ideal client is not the one you are pitching to, it becomes important to put yourself in his place. Sellers of mortgages admit that many times ‘the real Slim Shady’ is not the husband who comes asking about the property but the wife who will likely not ‘stand up’. Customer B, some told me they call her. And so successful ones pitch to the wife through the husband, or wisely request to invite the wife to the viewing of the show house.

‘Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?’ No. He won’t. You, the seller must point him out.

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