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In this blog post, we define the company and operational characteristics used to build a Zebra profile. We will present the other five characteristics in future posts.

After you have created your Zebra team, you gave them the task of developing your Zebra profile. Your Zebra is your ideal prospect, one you can pick out from all the other prospects who are not a perfect fit for your offerings.

To put together a Zebra profile, your team looks at specific characteristics. Here, we look at Company Characteristics and Operational Characteristics.

Company Characteristics

To learn about the company characteristics as a basis for your Zebra profile, you ask a series of questions and perform some analysis.

Ask About Behavior

Your first questions evaluate your best customers and recent deals you won. Identify your best customer according to repeat business, revenue, and margin. 

Ask the following questions of your best customers and the last five deals you won to determine how these companies do business.

  • How did the companies behave during the sales cycle?
  • Were they open, inviting, honest, and forthright, or was it challenging to communicate with them?
  • Were contract negotiations smooth and uneventful, or tense and tiresome?
  • Were you able to position and sell all you had to offer?

The answers give you the barest foundation for your profile.

Determine Size

Now you consider the size of the companies.

  • What size are your best customers and the companies in the most recent deals you won? Who are you selling to — small, medium, or large companies?
  • Is there a pattern to be found in the size of the company you sell to?
  • If you sell to large companies, do you sell at the corporate or the division level?

What Is Their Business Philosophy?

The third group of questions deals with business philosophy.

  • What are the business philosophies and ideals of your best customers and recent wins?
  • Does something else distinguish these companies from others, such as feelings about quality or focus on quality versus price?
  • Are cost and availability the characteristics that turn them into customers?

Knowing the ideals of your best customers helps you find prospects that are swayed by more than price.

How Do They Buy from You?

How do companies buy from you? Consider that the way they buy may change over time and as your solution matures in the market. 

Where are these companies in terms of the Product Adoption Life Cycle? Are they:

  • Innovators?
  • Early Adopters?
  • Early Majority?
  • Late Majority?
  • Laggards?

Use the answers to refine your sales approach. However, concentrate your efforts on early and late majority companies because this is where most organizations fall.

Early and late majority companies are defined as follows: 

Early Majority (34% of companies) – Individuals in this category adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time. This time of adoption is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. The Early Majority tends to be slower in the adoption process, have above average social status, and contact with early adopters. They seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system.

Late Majority (34% of companies) – Individuals in this category will adopt an innovation after the average member of society. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation. The Late Majority is typically skeptical about an innovation, has below-average social status, and very little financial lucidity. Individuals in the late majority and early majority show very little opinion leadership.


Here is a hint regarding selling into early and late majority companies. Early majority requires several metrics-based case studies that prove your value. Late majority companies require even more metrics-based case studies that prove your value and want them to be very similar to their business. The further you are in the technology adoption life cycle, the more proof of value you will need.

Industry Vertical

Review your best customers and recent wins to determine what industry sectors are represented and recognize these as the sweet spots to prospect. 

Now ask yourself which industries does your solution best fit? Think of broad industry groups, then narrow to the specific verticals. Use the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes or the National American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes where you have had the most success.

Location 

Does location matter for your sales? Where are your best customers located? Define yourself as a local, regional, national, or global company by the locations of your best customers. Then you can look for Zebras grazing nearby.

Once you answer all these questions and compile your information, spend some time looking at any other company characteristics relevant to you.

Operational Characteristics

Usually, these are easy to identify based on what your solution does for your customer. However, to find your Zebra profile, you must look closer. Although you sell to the executive level with higher-level business issues, you circle back to operational issues when you verify your value claim. 

What operational problems do you solve?

  • Increase revenue in a specific sector
  • Reduce labor
  • Make a particular group more productive
  • Cost avoidance

What specific business problems do you solve and what value does your solution create for the ideal customer?

Next, think about a set of reference companies. The team should ask:

  • What is the organizational structure? Or does organizational makeup matter?
  • If organizational structure matters, where do your best customers fall on a spectrum from simple to complex? 
  • How many divisions, branches, or locations do they have?
  • Are they primarily domestic or international?
  • Are they owned by a larger corporation or a parent company or neither?
  • Do they make centralized or decentralized decisions?
  • Are they first-generation buyers or is this an update of an earlier generation purchase?
  • Do you prefer a top-tier or mid-tier solution?

Who is responsible for operations and who are the end-users of your product? Look for patterns in work processes, labor issues, and equipment usage.

Are there patterns in how customers interact with their external environment? Look at how they sell products to their end customer. Is it by:

  • Direct sales?
  • Indirect channel?
  • Independent dealers?
  • Two-step distribution selling to someone who sells to someone else through to the end customer?

How do they interact with suppliers? What types of commitments do they make in terms of your solution?

Next Up: Technology Characteristics and Service Characteristics

Now your profile shows your Zebra’s company and operational characteristics. It’s a good start. In the next post, you will determine the technology and service characteristics of your best customers. 


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