Customer relations will either make or break your startup. According to Steve Blank, author of The Startup Owner’s Manual, new ventures rarely go belly-up due to a lack of technology. Instead, they fail because they haven’t found enough buyers willing to take the plunge. Customers are more than a source of profit—they also provide firsthand insight into your value proposition, allowing you to continually tweak and change your prototype until it suits your market. These four tips will change the way you think about customer relations and propel your startup toward success.
1. Know your audience
In order to relate with your customers, you need to know who they are. What is a day in the life of your customer like? What kind of needs do they have? Though you might be able to answer these questions with a decent guess or two, sooner or later you’ll have to validate your hypotheses. Accomplish this by giving cold calling a shot or, better yet, visit your customer in their place of work. Ask some tailored questions to really find out what makes them tick. Only once you’ve been able to get in your customer’s head will you be able to develop your product in a meaningful way.
2. Don’t deal in ideas—deal in solutions
It’s not enough to have a cool idea. You might be able to come up with a new device or creative app, but it’s not likely to deliver a lot of value to your customer unless it solves a problem they’re experiencing. Fortunately, if you followed the first tip and reached out to some potential customers in order to learn more about them, you should already have a list of “pains” they experience in their day-to-day work. Pick one of these and develop a solution. That way, when it comes time to pitch your product, you’ll be able to hook them with something you know they care about.
3. Take feedback and act on it
In a startup’s early stages, what’s more important: funding or feedback? If you guessed funding, think again. Nobody knows what’s keeping your prototype from becoming truly great better than the person using it, which is why you need to reach out to your early adopters and find out how your product working out for them. Is it accomplishing what it set out to do? What features does it lack? Are your customers using it in a manner you never anticipated? Take this feedback to heart, because it will completely change the way you go about revising and redeploying your product.
4. Keep your customers happy
Finding and growing your market is important, but you also need to know how to retain your customer base. How do you accomplish this? Your options are endless. Provide quick and visible technical support. Offer discounts when you anticipate a customer is about to split. Introduce a loyalty program. Cultivate a strong and personable sales and marketing team. Finally, continue to seek out and act on customer feedback. Simply involving your customer in the design cycle will keep them invested in your startup, securing your market foothold for a long time to come.
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