by Luke Sheppard, author of “Driving Great Results: Master The Tools You Need to Run A Great Business”
You may never be as close to your customers as you are in the weeks and months following the launch of your minimum viable product.
Don’t waste this opportunity!
What you learn about your customers now has the potential to pay huge dividends over the life of your company.
When you first launch your product to market, you are very much in a honeymoon phase with your customers. The relationship is new and exciting. You haven’t yet established a transactional relationship and still have the luxury to ask the type of questions that would seem misplaced and perhaps even inappropriate in just a few months’ time.
As the founder of a startup, it will be hard for you to contain your initial excitement that accompanies the realization that someone might actually want to buy your product. Your customer is equally excited and wants to contribute to your success, all while happily dishing out feedback on your product or service to ensure it meets their exact needs.
It’s a feel-good everyone-wins kind of time and if all goes well, they, and other customers like them, will flock to buy your widget instead of your competitors.
But there’s so much more value that can be extracted during this short window of opportunity. Here are three tips to make the most of the honeymoon phase with your customers.
1. Aligned values = aligned success.
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is how aligned are your values with those of your customer, and how important is this important to you?
These are people you could be dealing with for a very long time, and if their values clash with yours, it will inevitably create friction as you work to develop long-term solutions with them. You need to ask yourself the tough questions. What are your values? What do your customers value that you don’t? Are your religious or political views aligned or conflictual, and how important is this to you? How about your individual views on profit or environmental stewardship?
By reconciling these values now, you’re much more likely not to encounter them as stumbling blocks to your relationship in the future.
2.Deep relationships = outsized returns.
The relationship you develop with your key customers in the early days of launching your business can last for decades. These customers can join you on the journey of growing your business from a single idea to a world-class organization.
When you’re first starting out, there is a vulnerability that you both possess. They’re a little skeptical of you, and you’re a little unsure if they’re truly your “perfect prospect.” You start off by asking a lot of questions of each other, that turns into discussions, then life stories that then morph into shared visions.
You may not be comfortable with this degree of vulnerability and commitment to just a handful of key customers. After all, you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket. Don’t let this fear of commitment supercede deep knowledge. This is where a small, incremental investment of your time will pay huge dividends in the future. The deeper your commitment to your customers, the deeper their commitment to you when it comes time to buy or recommend your product to their friends.
3. Customer engagement = consistent earnings.
There are many different ways in which you can engage your customers and one thing is certain: when customer feedback and input is valued as a core part of your business, earnings will follow.
The best approach is not the model you choose, but the model you choose to implement consistently. Pick a model and run with it. Here are a few options to consider:
The customer is always right.
This method almost speaks for itself. What the customer says goes and you prioritize their needs and input above everything else. The upside is that you are highly responsive to individual customer feedback. The downside is that this approach has the potential to devalue and create a barrier between your team and your customers if one becomes more important than the other.
Deep customer understanding.
This involves spending as much time with a customer and your product as possible, on their home turf. This can be a time-intensive approach as it means forging lasting relationships. The number of customers you engage tends to be limited, but the depth of the engagement is very high. It’s a continuation of deep relationships as outlined above, though tends to be more focused on your understanding of the relationship your customers have with your product or service.
This involves cultivating a group or groups of experientially deep and committed customers that provide specific feedback on your product as they advocate to others on your behalf. As this approach relies on customers engaging with customers, the feedback you receive from your advocates tends to be of very high quality.
Many employees in startups during the early stages of product launch are keen to engage with customers. This keenness begins to wane as running the business and developing new products takes priority. These are connections you want to keep and need to work hard to maintain. There’s something powerful about connecting your team with the people they help. This method places the onus on you and all members of your team to create and maintain a direct relationship with your customers. This is particularly important as your business grows as the unfiltered feedback you receive from your customers keeps you grounded in why you started your business in the first place.
Luke Sheppard is author of “Driving Great Results: Master The Tools You Need to Run A Great Business”. He is the founder and principle of Sheppard & Company, a firm created on the premise of helping others to apply the proven business principles he’s honed over his 20-year career. Luke has spent most of his career with John Deere, a heavy equipment manufacturer, in engineering, operations, general management, and executive leadership roles.