Customer check-in

One thing I find very fascinating is that for a lot of startups there seems to be an almost inverse relationship between the energy put into acquiring and onboarding customers versus the energy put into keeping them as happy customers for the long term.

Of course most startups do customer satisfaction surveys, NPS scores etc, but how often do you actually reach out to some of your customers to engage in a real conversation about how it’s going, how they use your product and what challenges they are experiencing?

Thought so.

The challenge tends to become more complex the more you’re driven by SaaS-metrics like MRR and ARR. Yes, it is vital that you understand these, but what difference will it make, if in essence you have very little understanding of what is going on behind the scenes, in the heads and minds of your customers?

One of many reasons that Amazon has become so extremely successful over the years is that they have always been extremely customer obsessed. They have always been looking towards understanding the customer, the journey and experience better and better in order to develop their many offerings.

And they have been remarkably successful to say the least.

You will most probably not be the next Amazon, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t steal a page our of their playbook and become totally customer obsessed.

Lesson one in that course is to start treating an existing customer and the relationship you have and want to expand with that one over time with the same amount of energy, you put into acquiring new customers.

(Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash)

Are you interesting?

There is a lot of talk about the effectiveness of content marketing for startups. And while I don’t doubt that it has some effect for some, I am firmly in the camp where I would advice anyone to up their game significantly, if they want to do content.

Because there is som much ‘blah’ put there that’s just not interesting at all.

Compare it to a party, where you meet someone you have never met before. You talk casually.

What’s the most interesting conversation?

The one where the guy across from you just babble on in banal terms without even making the slightest effort to understand whether you’re interested or even paying attention.

Or the one who actually engages in a conversation, brings new perspectives to something you care about or at the very least can relate to and leave you wiser and eager to know more?

Of course you would choose the latter one.

And that’s my point:

Content marketing is the first one. Thinly disguised as being ‘customer centric’ it is essentially about the sender and demonstrates a lack of understanding and/or real interest in who you are and what challenges you are facing. Basically, it doesn’t care.

The latter one is content where you from an angle of curiosity explore the field, you’re working in making sure that you bring fresh perspectives to your field and basically is worth the time and investment for others to follow and engage with.

That kind of content doesn’t need to be hard to produce. It just takes someone who knows what he or she is talking about and with a willingness to write about it from time to time and a openness towards getting it out there and potentially get some interesting feedback.

It’s an approach that doesn’t fit very well with outsourcing to an agency, because it takes knowledge, real insights and – crucially – the authenticity and presence that you can only bring to the table, when the one putting the content out there is deeply immersed into the field herself – day in, day out.

That’s what will make it interesting and worth following. And that is what could be a great and efficient building block for building and nurturing relationships.

If you can go that route, you have a number of potential advantages looking at you compared to your competitors, who stick with the old, ineffective content marketing playbook:

You can essentially become a real thought leader. You can get valuable feedback from customers and other constituents that can have an impact on your business. And ultimately you can drive new leads to the business that will both be worth significantly more over time from a commercial point of view but will also be way cheaper to connect with than other means of advertising.

Because all it takes is essentially your insights, willingness to share and openness towards connecting.

(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

The ‘Worldview’ biz model

Yesterday we held local elections in Denmark. Always a super exciting day where people come out to vote on the issues that matter the most in their everyday lives.

While ideology seldom gets a lot of room in the local election campaigns, the ingredients are still there to pit people against eachother in order to force a result and ultimately the way things will be run locally going forward.

So it matters what your message is, how you word it, the level of nuance (or the lack of it), how you get it out, and how you build a loyal following enough to stick at least until the fateful vote is cast on election day.

It’s essentially about your local ‘Worldview’ and getting the electorate to buy into that. And that got me thinking (a bit off the rails but please bear with me as I think it’s quite important):

If you are into the media business and have ever harbored doubts about the advertising driven business model in an online context, beware of the new dangerous animal in town:

The ‘Worldview’ biz model.

This is the business model, where content creators with a particular worldview go solo or band together in small groups to deliver media content with a certain ‘worldview’ that users can subscribe to for a fee.

While there is every reason to applaud a business model based on subscription, the danger of the ‘worldview’ model is that it is only successful because it is inherently polarizing.

Just as ads supported business models have an interest in creating sensation and conflict to get the eyeballs needed to monetize on ads, creators of ‘worldview’ media content have an interest in painting everything black or white according to a certain belief system to get loyal subscribers to fork out their cash to access the content.

This, of course, means we’re likely to get more and more of it. We can call it a wealth of niches of special interests. But we shouldn’t neglect the fact that probably a good part of it is inherently dangerous to the commonwealth.

Want proof?

Look at some of the people with the biggest subscriber followings for paid newsletters. You will see a good few of them coming from people who have very clear ‘worldviews’, who are excelling in flaming the views of others in order to keep them loyal, hungry for more – so they will keep paying the subscription.

The phenomenon should definitely be taken seriously, and it should also be scrutinized. We shouldn’t gloss it over out of sheer admiration in the ability of some to build a sizable subscription following in a digital media world, where we have struggled for viable alternatives to the ads driven business model for years on end.

This is serious. And could potentially become quite ugly going forward.

(Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash)

Solve my problem, please

Normally, we’re used to seeing startups looking to solve the problems of their customers.

But lately, I have realized that there is actually quite a lot of startups, who are essentially asking their customers to solve their own problems.

I typically see it in outreach emails asking me to go to a service or a product and do something specific; update something, try out a new feature or something of that nature. And it’s all perfectly fine.

But it also sends a signal that something is off; something is less than ideal. We have encountered a problem or a challenge on our end, and you, our dear customer, should ideally help us fix it.

Essentially, what you’re often communicating in this way is a shortcoming. Something you didn’t get right in the first place, and now you’re looking to compensate or perhaps even fix the issue.

You could of course argue that there is no other way than outreach to tell about new offers, features etc., and to a large extend, you would be right about that.

However, I could also make the argument that if you had a truly sticky product that your customers were so habitually using they knew it inside and out, they would find out these things themselves, and there would be little need to do outreach to already existing customers.

In summary: When your need to do outreach to your customers is on the increase, ask yourself where in your product or service, your core offering may be broken or less than ideal.

That is the problem, you should solve. Yourself.

(Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash)

Beware changing models

Can you start out with one type of business model and then transition to a new one without facing huge challenges?

The question is a valid one. And the answer is probably “No” in most cases. And it is worth exploring a bit further, as it’s often a topic that comes up when I meet with founders.

The issue with wanting to change the business model is that what I need and want as a founder and business owner is not necessarily the same as my customer needs and wants.

Let me a simple example from my own life as a customer:

When I order a case of wine from my preferred ‘wine pusher’, I expect it to be an interesting wine from a wine maker, I would otherwise never have heard of and at a reasonable price. Like I am used to.

I do not expect to get an offer for a wine they have produced themselves together with a chef, I have never heard of (even though it probably says something bad about me that I don’t). As I got the other day. And immediately decided to decline.

Why?

Because it broke the fundamental ‘contract’ I have with my regular supplier: You find regular wines from little known places that I can then get a good offer on. That’s the model, I have signed up for. You DON’T try to introduce your own brands into the mix, because that deviates from our ‘contract’.

Could I be more forgiving here and just try it out? Absolutely. And I fully expect that many of their customers do so. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t do it. But I think it goes to show how challenging it can be to make changes to your fundamental value proposition and business model.

I think you need to be very aware of this. Because while it may be tempting to try to change your business model to introduce new revenue streams, cut costs, increase sales, boost your bottom line or whatever, you won’t succeed in it if you’re out of sync with what your customers are expecting.

Don’t ever take even your loyal customers for granted.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Go for the consumer

When someone in a startup tells me that they are going for the enterprise segment, I get a ‘gulp’ feeling. In fact the only thing that makes me more anxious is if the startup is going for the public sector.

Why?

Because it can be super tricky to actually sell what you’re doing to them.

In the enterprise your user is often not the one actually paying the bills – especially for larger accounts. This complicates your sale; it doesn’t really matter if rank and file users are excited; if the person, who is going to fork over the cash doesn’t really see or understand the value of what you’re doing, it all may amount to nothing.

Best case? You can spend months and months and months closing just one sale. Worst case? There won’t be any sale despite your ongoing, costly efforts.

For public sector it can be even worse;

Take the complexity of the enterprise sale and add political layers, various discussion and decision fora that need to get aligned without any timely deadline and a procurement process where someone completely detached from what you’re trying to sell is going to decide IF and WHEN they will open up the tender process that’s relevant – and crucial – for your ability to make a substantial sale.

It can quickly turn into a nightmare. And a costly and frustrating one at that with little or no luck in the other end.

Now, I am not saying that it can’t be done. Of course it can. It’s just hard and extremely risky, and you will have to fight more than most for whatever deals you’re able to close. But once you get that done, the reward can be good as well; bigger deals, longer terms, more stability on your revenue etc.

However, I still like the consumer play the most; the shortest possible way to someone with a creditcard willing to pay for whatever kind of relief you bring to the customers pain.

To me, the consumer approach has several advantages;

It can be easier to figure out what the right product is because you can better experiment your way towards a better understanding of your future customer and her pain(s). Your user is your customer.

It can be more efficient to market and ultimately sell, because the journey to get to the individual customer is easier to map and get right.

It can be easier to at least drive trial of your product or service to give consumers a taste of what you can offer – and then deliver above and beyond, so they fall in love with your solution and stick around for more.

And ultimately it can be easier to get the satisfaction of actually having helped someone be better off because of something you did and made available. A feeling you really shouldn’t discount.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Customer loyalty during a crisis

A lot of people say that there is never a time as good to start a new venture as in a time of crisis.

Maybe it’s true. I don’t know. But lets assume it is. What are the things that makes it different and perhaps even better?

Normally, most would suggest that the reason it is a good time to start is that you can put pressure on the ressources you need to get going; vendors are hungry for cast and talent may not have the opportunities and bargaining power they had before.

I am not sure that goes for the tech sector, though.

But what I do find interesting is when it comes to customers and customer relationships. Maybe that’s where the real differentiator is?

When I look at my own personal spending patterns during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have largely gone one way: Down. I have cut out a lot of the day-to-day personal operating expenses – the little guilty pleasures – that I have been used to. Simply because I haven’t been able to venture out in the same way.

Now that my spending has been cut back, I am using the opportunity to assess my future spending with bigger scrutiny. I think more about what I spend the money on, and I think more about making sure that I get the value I pay for. And that I relentlessly cut out excess spending.

Case in point: I have become a cable cutter. Goodbye flow TV and big packages. Hello, select streaming services. Net effect? Minus 50 percent in cost. Per month.

I am not assuming that I am the only one who have experienced this. And let me add more to it:

It’s not that I think I am worse off than before. I think what I have now suits my needs better and more precise, and all the stuff I have cut out were things, I could easily live without.

Let’s go back towards the point about a time of crisis being a great time to start a new venture:

Perhaps it is not so much about the short term propensity towards trying to squeeze your suppliers, partners and employees.

Perhaps it is more about making damn sure that you deliver real value to your customers based on what they define as real value – not you.

Maybe it is about making sure that every single time one of your customers contemplate whether they can live without what you’re delivering, they will quickly move on to the next item on their list, because what you’re doing is an evident ‘keeper’.

If you get that out of starting a new venture during a time of crisis, I think you might just have something that will not only be able to make it through the crisis but actually thrive during and afterwards.

You’re welcome.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The HelloFresh test

One of the basic common rules for startups is that if what you’re working on is worth doing, you’re bound to have competition (unless you’re operating in one of those rare spaces, where you have spotted something before anyone else, of course).

With so many services – especially in the consumer space – feeling more or less alike or at the very least trying to serve the same need or solve the same problem, you need to ask yourself, what the differentiator between success and failure is going to be.

There are quite a lot to choose from, but one of the ones, I increasingly believe a lot in is the end-to-end Customer Experience, i.e. everything from the smoothness of using the product and get what you need to the overall feel of the entire experience.

If you want to learn from the best – or those believed or rumored to be the best – there is only one way to go about it: To try the service out and see for yourself.

For that reason I have made a personal decision:

I am going to be trying out a different services in quite crowded consumer spaces over the coming months to get a sense of how those that get singled out for their Customer Experience and their ability to execute ruthlessly against it actually work.

I have already signed up for the first one: HelloFresh.

HelloFresh is rumored to be a cutthroat business that are very good at executing flawlessly in the crowded meal kit market.

They have just entered the Danish market, and I have signed up to give it a spin. The Danish meal kit market is super crowded with all sorts of services, and I have previously tried a few without being overly impressed.

So I am very curious to see, if my experience with HelloFresh is going to feel any different – if I can FEEL the execution. And what – if anything – I can learn from it to bring to the other things I am working on.

Because, yes, it always pays to get inspired from other industries for what you’re trying to succeed with yourself.

I will keep you posted on what I learn.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)