As first published on My Entrepreneur
There is a significant moment that every entrepreneur has encountered at least once: the launch of their business – start up or more traditional SME – a milestone that marks the beginning of the actual life of the business and the end of the initial preparation cycle. It’s a crucial moment as for the first time, real prospects and customers will try, evaluate and rate your offering. And as an entrepreneur, the one question that should keep you up at night is: “How do I grow my customer base?”
Here are four tips on how you can build a solid customer base for your startup business, based on my experience at Maestrano.
1. Treasure quality over quantity
As a young business, you want to show that you have traction in your market, but more importantly, you want to demonstrate that your customers are extremely satisfied with your offering. Happy customers mean a good reputation, which in turns yields more customers, so at the start; focus on acquiring a reasonably small number of customers and giving them the experience of a lifetime, no matter what industry you are in.
These early customers will be your first references and are critical to your upcoming marketing campaigns, fund raising rounds, and partnership discussions.
Ensure you and your teams spend a lot of time supporting them, answering all their questions and proving how invaluable they are to your business because that is exactly what they are. Remember, there is no better advocate for your brand and your products or services than a happy customer.
2. Revenue isn’t the be all and end all at the start
Although a business needs to generate revenue, it’s quite common for startups to raise funds to start their activities, which means that the need to generate revenues is less pressing than in more traditional businesses.
However, startup or not, at some point, you need to show that your business is generating revenue because it’s the clearest sign that customers like your product. And in time, only businesses that can demonstrate lots of these “monetary votes” will be able to survive, grow and strive.
But in these early days, you may want to take it easy on the revenue-side of things. It is far more important that you generate an extremely high level of satisfaction with your early customers than lots of cash from them. Focus on their experience; make them happy. Make them feel loved because without them, your business will die. Strive for Excellency, go the extra mile and learn from all of that – it will help you refine your business model and pricing down the track.
Way too often, startups – particularly Software as a Service (SaaS) startups – worry immediately about the “cost of acquisition” of customers. I would say that this cost does not matter in the early days. Instead, during the early stages, spend as much time, effort and money as you need (and can afford) to build your early customers’ portfolio. Rationalising your acquisition strategy will come later.
3. Use the LACPAC technique
“Listen Ask Confirm, Pause Answer Confirm” is one of the oldest tips in the traditional sales book. In the old days where sales were exclusively from people to people, this little formula would allow sales people to ensure that they would listen to their prospects, confirm their questions, doubts, queries and think before providing an answer.
Use the same technique to build your customer base. Whether you are selling face to face, online or through partners, you will be in a much better place if you apply this formula.
Listen to your customers. After all, they are your target – so whatever recommendation, question, comment or criticism they share with you is pure gold. They may not always be positive about your offering and may even sometimes hurt you with their comments – no product can please everyone. But if you ignore them, you are simply ignoring the most important feedback of all: your market’s feedback, which may come back to hurt you down the line.
No matter what they tell you, be sure you understand it properly. If unclear, ask questions. This will allow you to gain a better understanding of your customers, create a positive relationship in which they feel confident and satisfied as you value their opinion. This is a virtuous circle in the making, and will generate greater engagement and loyalty from your other customers.
In modern days, the old “pause, answer, confirm” could translate into: “Design & Adapt, Release, Re-test”. Once you have listened to feedback or suggestions from your customers, you may decide to apply changes to parts or all of your offering. Once done, don’t forget to go through the market validation cycle again. Only after a few iterations will you have achieved a real market fit. And only at this point in time will you be able to grow your customer base exponentially.
4. Acknowledge your customers and share your journey with them
Your customers know that behind your brand there is an idea, an objective and a mission statement – or that at least there should be! But too often, people are so focused on their own challenges and objectives that they lose sight of the effort being generated to support them.
Don’t hesitate to share your journey with your customers. Introduce your team(s) to them, either in person or through e-newsletters, emails, and social media. Try to make their relationship with your brand more human and personalised.
At Maestrano for instance, we enjoy what we do so much that every Friday, one of our team members writes an article for the company’s blog. And it’s not about technology, products, market or anything of the sort; it’s simply about the life in our company – our joys, successes, and challenges of the past week. These blog articles have constantly ranked at the top of the leaders board in terms of readership and engagement – because people do like human adventures. Your business is one. Share it!
By the same token, never miss an opportunity to acknowledge your customers. It can be a simple “Thanks for supporting us” email with no other agenda than to simply say thanks. Any sort of little attention that will prove how important they are to you, your teams and your business. But be genuine in your intent here. It’s not about thanking them when you need to upsell them or renew a contract – that is (gross) marketing.
These four tips will help you generate a genuine brand positioning, place your products in the mind of your customers and establish that trusting relationship you need with all your customers. From there, the rest is about commitment, dedication and hard work. Your customers will always be thankful for that.