What does it mean to have customer consensus?

What do you mean when you ask "Who is our customer?" What do you learn?

I've struggled to find a way to ask this question so it produces more than an occupation or set of descriptors. I've often griped, "If you ask it starting with "who," people might answer with a persona, and that's not what we want!"


The ambiguity in asking "who" makes room for answers that tell us where we are, where we ought to go next, and what kinds of growth opportunities we can pursue. How we answer tells us which of three decision-making states we're in and that is as valuable as the answer itself.

Ask this question at your org, and use the answers to see which of these 3 states you're in:

1. Customer Chaos: Team members are all over the place with limited to no agreement or understanding of who they serve

How it sounds: "Designers" or "Marketers" or "To run workshops" or "....idk"

What it means: The team is not solving any problem well for a well-defined group of people. It will be hard to do much of anything well without extraordinary luck or funding.

2. Customer Folklore: Similar answers in the form of personas or user groups with scattered details on use cases

How it sounds: "Creatives" or "Designers at agencies"

What it means: Teammates are responding to "who" using an occupation or set of attributes. Even if everyone agrees, they're sharing the characters but not the plot. They don't know the full story, they haven't agreed on what it is, and you will struggle to make strategic decisions to support how people find, start, and stay with you.

3. Customer Consensus: Job story shorthand

How it sounds: "Job 2" where everyone knows that means something like, "Knowledge workers who planned an in-person meeting that is now remote who need a way to run it well so they don't lose progress or clients."

What it means: Team members will use an established and agreed-upon shorthand to refer to a customer including their persona, struggle, and definition of success. Shared understanding rich in context gets your org aligned so you can make smarter strategic decisions on marketing, product, ecosystem strategy, and more - and move faster.

How to move from one decision-making state to the next

Start by surfacing misalignment by bringing everyone together to share their understanding of who your customer is so everyone can see it for themselves.

When everyone agrees the misalignment exists (and that it's sabotaging growth), run a JTBD study to come to customer consensus. Plan on thrashing about and taking time to adapt to this change for some time before finally getting there.