@adamshostack objects to something I quoted from Clayton Christensen: Understanding your customer isn't enough (hattip Chris Lawer, Gunnar Peterson).
What Christensen is saying, and I absolutely agree with this, is that understanding the customer is the wrong level of analysis (granularity). What we need to focus on is the job the customers are trying to get done when they use your product or service.
Adam thinks this is "fascinating & wrong. W/o understanding customer orientation, you can't from job" (via Twitter).
I think pharmaceutical sales and marketing provides an excellent example of why Christensen is correct. As I have explained before, a typical twentieth-century business model involved drug company representatives making personal visits to doctors. To support this kind of model, you collected lots of information about the doctor - not just professional (size of practice, specialization, and so on) but also personal (ethnic group, sexual preference, ages of children, golf or squash). The drug company employed a range of representatives of different types, and selected the appropriate rep to visit a white gay squash-playing doctor.
The trouble with this business model is that it is not aligned with the products and services of the drug company. Doctors increasingly regard these kind of sales visits as a complete waste of time; even if they accept the hospitality of the drug companies, they have learned to be resistant to the sales messages.
What the drug company needs to focus on is how to provide more value to the doctor. For this purpose, you don't need information about the doctor, you need information about what the doctor actually does. In particular, you have to understand the decision process in which the doctor thinks about prescribing particular drugs to a particular patient, as well as the collaborative process in which the doctor and other healthcare practitioners discuss alternative courses of treatment with a patient.
Understanding the doctor is missing the point. The opportunity to create business value comes from understanding the work of the doctor. Different doctors may have different styles and habits, and may approach similar cases in different ways (although this is increasingly constrained by procedure and protocol imposed by health authorities or health insurance companies). That's the right level of analysis.
One technique we use for this analysis is business process modelling. But we're not interested in the company's own processes, we're interested in the customers' processes, and in the variations in these processes. Business survival depends on providing products and services that add value to these customer processes, so it's the customer processes we need to understand. Not the customer as a passive and indivisible entity (as in many CRM systems) but as an active bundle of behaviour and capability and purpose.
See also Clayton Christensen on jobs needing to get done (via Anders Sundelin).