Startups: is your product actually important?
To the entrepreneur the product is the center of their universe. It’s the manifestation of their new idea they hope will change the world in some BIG way.
They have a fundamental belief that their product satisfies some compelling purpose and they stress attributes such as features, cool technology and price as the reasons why people should buy it.
A strategic game plan for a startup business that is solely focused on the product is flawed.
It’s not just your product that will ensure your brave new idea is successful; products alone don't make companies great. In a marketplace where benchmarking and best practices are relied on as the main vehicle of innovation, virtually every company in a given product space eventually offers similar products.
The smartphone sector, for example, has a number of participants whose products, give or take, are essentially the same in terms of functionality and price.
Market participants claim that they have different features and that their prices are more attractive than others, but essentially they are all the same.
So if products eventually all gravitate to a common look alike state, what should the entrepreneur do when they launch their new business to ensure that THEIR organization will be different from their competitors in the future when it is more mature?
Wrap customer engagement around your product
The challenge is to put the necessary building blocks in place to develop a customer engagement culture around it's product that makes people want to do business with them and no one else.
As you launch your dream machine, think about these 10 moves that will enable you to provide the WOW! cushion to sell your product.
Hire caring people
When you eventually — hopefully — are in a position to recruit people to help build your business, look for sensitive and caring people who have an innate desire to help others rather than place all the emphasis on their academic qualifications and related experience.
Use friendly technology
Dumb down the technology behind your product; make it "friendly" technology to express the value it creates for people rather than emphasizing the coolness of what it does. Technology can be difficult to understand and it can be intimidating; draw attention to what benefits it creates for people and downplay how the technology works.
Use customer friendly rules
Keep your business processes simple, but when you feel you need policies and rules, design them with the customer in mind. Have your rules serve the customer so it’s easy for them to do business with you — involve them in the design process. Avoid using policy to control the customer engagement process, and NEVER utter the words “It's not our policy."
Use promotions to honour loyalty
Offer any special promotions and deals you may feel you need to attract new customers first to your existing loyal customers and THEN to potential new ones. Declare your policy — a great rule to start with — that you will consider special deals primarily as a reward for customer loyalty not as a tool to entice new customers away from their current supplier.
And if you have ways for them to reduce the price they pay you, proactively advise them of the opportunity.
Support local communities
When you can afford to do so, invest in the local communities where you operate; emphasize your employees and the amount of personal time they give to the volunteering effort. This is extremely important to give your business a human look and feel and communicates that you are willing to share your success with the people who made you successful.
And it doesn’t have to be a big investment. Start out by giving your time to small volunteering efforts and dedicate more time when you are able. The word will spread that you not only have a product that serves an important social need, but also that you treat community concerns as a priority of your team.
Constantly be in touch with customers
Routinely communicate with your customers on matters you feel would interest them — product enhancements, special promotions, community engagement and so on. As much as is practical, personalize every message to make it meaningful and relevant to each recipient.
Avoid mass communications with boiler plate general messaging unless you want to see your efforts go in a deleted items folder.
And use your regular communications channel to seek their advice on business matters; if you want a customer — centric culture when you grow up, start bringing your customers in to your affairs early-on in your journey.
When your business starts to grow and you begin to add employees, empower your service personnel to make decisions to resolve customer issues fast having to escalate the matter for resolution. Trust that your frontline will make balanced decisions that represent the needs of both the customer and your company.
Create a fun esprit de corps atmosphere where employees are allowed to be casual with customers. Informality puts customer engagement at ease and has them leaning in to your team rather than leaning away from them.
Give away business
Put your consultant’s hat on from the get-go; your job is to understand what your customer wants and desires and provide the right solution — even if it means recommending them to another company!
Don’t be a short term thinker who believes this action to be insane and tantamount to giving away business. The fact is you will never lose a customer in the long run when you have their best interests at heart.
Keep people over technology
Keep a meaningful human component in your business; be careful when you decide to displace people with “more efficient” technology. If you treat cost reduction as a priority over retaining loyal customers, you may negatively impact the service quality you provide.
Another launch policy: “We will always place our emphasis on taking care of our customers and will NEVER put reducing our costs ahead of retaining their loyalty”.
Larger organizations violate this principle when they decide to outsource their call center operations. The standout ones, however, treat their call centers as “loyalty centers” with the emphasis on taking care of the customer rather than processing customer calls fast and cheap.
Use people as fallback
Build your customer contact strategy around always having people available as an option for customers who don’t want to be managed by call answer technology.
Another launch policy — “We will make it easy for customers to do business with us and will ALWAYS have technology backed up by people. We will never force a customer into using a tool of technology that they don’t want to”.
If you want your new adventure to succeed, remember that people don't buy products.
They buy the total attributes of the organizations they admire, respect and are comfortable with; whose ideals match their own.
Roy Osing () is a former President and CMO with over 33 years of leadership experience covering all the major business functions including business strategy, marketing, sales, customer service and people development. He is a blogger, content marketer, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series .