To determine who your customers are you have to frame how and what current problems exist for a set of customers or companies.
Many people however do not take this research to the next level by following the pain down or up the food chain to the point of origin down to the people it affects the most. They say the best inventions are those that solve a problem for their inventor. I believe this is right and you should always focus on solving an existing problem or pain point.
A great example of this is the energy sector. There are numerous ways to track energy, efficiency, and usage. You can track kilowatts, therms, carbon footprints – but which is “right”?
The answer can be found by following the pain points.
In the UK they have implemented cap and trade to create a market around carbon emissions and to control the carbon footprint.
In the US this legislation is not yet in place but may be coming soon. This gives some insight into what language will be important to people within this space – carbon emissions.
In this case, following the pain literally means following the legislation and providing a solution to those individuals or companies that need to track this information.
To provide another example many companies solve problems with a “make it faster” approach.
Instead, they could look at the ultimate goal of either customer acquisitions, more sales, more revenue from current customers…etc
By going up the food chain and following the pain at the 100,000 ft level you can create and test your “solution” hypothesis better, faster, and more accurately.
Follow the pain.