The Strategy of Creating Customers

If the purpose of business is to create a customer, a really important question to ask is, “Who is the customer?”  It may seem obvious, but it may not be.


It’s complex because sometimes your primary customer doesn’t pay you anything and you must rely on them to help you create paying customers.

  • Wells Fargo Mortgage sells the realtor for a referral and is paid by the home buyer.
  • Silvan Learning educates the student and is paid by the parent.
  • The technology company goes through multiple channels but sells the enterprise.
  • The nonprofit serves the needy but is paid by the donor.


in service or technology industries which rely on knowledge or service work, creating and retaining customers is largely dependent on employees.  Wouldn’t it be true then, that employees are the primary customer?


In the early 1990’s First Tennessee Bank conducted a survey of their customers to determine what it took to create a happy customer.  They found happy employees created by happy customers.  First Tennessee used this to build an “Employees First” strategy. They would leverage their employees and invest in them to create happy customers.  In essence, they learned that their primary customer was their employee.


With the current shortage of talent, there is pressure on everyone to find, keep and develop quality people. This is amplified when Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have the resources and the appetite to hire the best and brightest.  Many companies are realizing that the employee, especially talented employee is now their primary customer.  Without them, you may not be able to create the customer that pays you.


Talent is king.


Look at the best college or professional teams, they are great because they recruit the best athletes. As much as I dislike that Alabama keeps winning national football championships, they had 12 players drafted in the 2018 NFL draft, the most of any college.  Despite being a smaller market school, they rank in the top 3 in football revenue behind Texas and Ohio.


The smaller the team, the more significant the impact talent can have.  Adding Serena Williams to any professional is going to immediately make them a contender to win the Wimbledon doubles championship. In basketball, Lebron James, Stephon Curry, or James Harden had an immediate impact on the competitiveness of their teams.  But, it is much harder for a single football player to change the course of a season on a football team.  Andrew Luck was a number one pick quarterback and despite his talent, the Colts have not won a championship with him.


In the small/medium sized company, one significant hire can be the tipping point toward growth or breakthrough to scale.  Despite this, small/medium employers often hire wrong or hire cheap.  As a result, the owner/founder finds himself surrounded by helpers unable to do much of anything without his/her attention. Metaphorically, he/she ends up playing all positions on the basketball court, without anyone else being able to score or play defense.


The talent question must be answered.  Do you know what type of talent you need?  What do they value?  How will you get them? Can you retain them?  How will you measure your progress or success?  What is your plan?  These may be the most critical strategy questions many companies will ask.


  1. Dan Stachofsky on May 10, 2018 at 7:05 am

    Hiring cheap typical equates to hiring wrong in the long run. If a company is focused on hiring inexpensive they do themselves well to ensure a clear and effective path for career and compensation growth.

    • Robert Wuflestad on May 10, 2018 at 8:24 am

      Thanks Dan! I agree. There are strategies that it makes a lot of sense to hire entry-level, high-potential employees. In this case, you may be hiring cheap but investing a lot in training and development (which isn’t cheap). In this case, you better have a plan how to keep them, it’s unfortunate to be the training ground for the competition.