“Business Ignition Series”, Volume 1 The importance of a customer-centric approach
We all know that building a business is incredibly tough. There are no easy paths and no easy answers. It’s inevitable that during your journey, at some point, life is going to smack you in the mouth. As we all know, life isn’t all sunshine, calm seas and frolicking puppies. Where I’m from, it’s all downpours, smog and tutting.
But that’s why one the main reasons we set up our company. We have been kicked in the face so that you don’t have to be.
I’m a simple man and I’m content with a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD and a Capri- Sun. I have no ulterior motive or reason to give you false information. I just want to help.
I see so many brilliant, talented, well meaning people who really deserve the best in life. Yet they are given the wrong advice, or more often than not, no advice. This means that with all the altruism and drive in the world, there is only so far you can go.
We want to provide you with access to the people, ideas and networks that allow you to execute on your dreams.
But let’s bring it back to reality, in order to achieve those things, you need to be focused and execution is the only thing that matters. That being said, executing towards the wrong aims is like being in a plane, but the pilot don’t know where they are going.
Be want to provide that benchmark and that north star that can lead you with ever assured confidence and speed to where you want to get to in life.
To build a great business, there are many moving parts and it is very multi-faceted. But in a nutshell, a great business is one that solves their customers’ problems more elegantly than the competition, and everyone knows about it. If you do that, I don’t care in what industry you’re in, you’re going to be successful. Especially so if you’re objective, open to metrics along the way and are willing to take hardship not as personal criticism, but feedback. Take this approach and I promise you it will never steer you wrong.
Remember a very important quote.
“The greatest enemy to knowledge is not ignorance, it’s the illusion of knowledge.”
It all starts with customer
You must start with the customer. After all, the lowest common denominator of a business is that they have to have customers. Revenue comes from customers, whether they are individuals, companies or other organisations. It is only with an in depth customer understanding that you can elegantly solve the problems they are currently facing. It is only by solving problems for people or organisations that you make money. Fail to do that, and you will not have a business.
So, I will teach you the nuts and bolts of how to build your business case from the ground up. Then teach you how to put it into a pitch deck to help you raise investment and secure partnerships. With in depth customer understanding, that’s where your marketing foundation is formed as you can speak in their language and deliver a message that resonates by solving those problems you are going to identify with your customer development work. Then and only then will we dive into generating a website and your social media assets. Any other approach is doomed to fail. Which unfortunately, is the path most often travelled by entrepreneurs.
Our mission is to make sure you don’t make those same mistakes and you build your business with the right thinking. This will maximise your chances of success and allow you to destroy your competition, even if you don’t have their resources.
How to speak to customers the right way
One of the biggest problems with many entrepreneurs is they form assumptions, assume they are the best thing ever created, then just stay in their Mom’s basement working and don’t talk to any customers. Fast forward a year and they’ve invested all their money into a product that nobody wants and soon develop a drinking problem.
However, whilst speaking to customers is undoubtedly a great thing to be doing, it needs to be done in the right way. After all, if you end up coming away from dozens of conversations not with what the customer truly thinks and feels, but something they have said because they thought it was what you wanted to hear, this can be worse than not speaking to customers at all. Why? Because you were given false positive signals that you have a great business idea when in fact, you don’t. At least if you hear the truth that the business idea sucks, you can continue to pivot and adjust your business until it works. And if you learn how to speak to customers the right way, there is a very good chance this will happen.
We don’t mean to be leading people down the garden path, we just do it as we don’t want to hurt our feelings. This is a very British thing to be doing, and we do it a lot more if it’s with someone that we like and even more intense if it’s a family member or close friend, whose word on this matter is probably less reliable than a plumber’s estimate, because they would never tell you that your idea was terrible.
So a really important point is you need to have customer interviews with people who are objective and not biased if at all possible. This doesn’t mean you can’t derive value and insights from those you care about, but you need to take what they say with a bit more of a pinch of salt.
We as entrepreneurs tend to be very passionate about what we do, and start to pitch at the drop of a hat. After all, so much of business is about pitching and selling, particularly if you are the founder.
Trouble is, as soon as you start doing this, because of the above facts, the person you are speaking to will formulate in their mind that this issue is important to you and then tell you what you want to hear.
So the key is to talk about their problems and pain points. You need to be mercilessly focused on them and what is important to them. After all, it is the perceived alleviation of those problems and pain points that is going to make them choose your solution over a competitors (or doing nothing at all, which is a powerful competitor in its own right and should be respected.)
Importantly, listen really intently to their answers. When they hit you with a problem or pain point in their life, your next objective is to quantify and qualify how much of a pain point this is in their life. If it’s not a big enough problem, they are not going to pay for a solution to that problem.
When you are doing this, you need to remember not to lead them down a path that isn’t the true one, so watch your language, body language and vocabulary during these moments as if they pick up what your thoughts are on this, they could change their behaviour and answers to fit what they perceive is what you want to hear.
Be aware of confirmation bias. If you make conclusions early on, what we are prone to as humans is to then only hear information that confirms our beliefs and we disregard (often unconsciously) anything that may go against and refute that belief.
So be as objective as possible.
You are looking for trends, so make sure you record your findings in a logical format and keep it safe somewhere. Once you’ve found trends, you can keep digging even further. On the fund raising trail, this kind of attention to detail, meticulous thought process and desire to speak to customers will be absolute gold in the eyes of investors and will really make you stand out from the crowd of entrepreneurs that just think they have a cool idea but have done nothing to validate it.
You need your customer development interviews to be extremely slick but also natural. If the customer feels like they are being interrogated, their answers won’t be natural and you can again get false positives (or negatives) – you may be led to believe your business idea is not a good one when in fact it is.
So a good way to do it is to have 3 questions that can find out the customer’s biggest problems right now. Then when they tell you, keep digging and find out why. If you find any more interesting rabbit holes to go down, go down them and see where they lead. You just might uncover a massive pain point that applies to millions of customers. You should approach entrepreneurship and indeed life with a child like curiosity, to always be in listening mode and be open to new opportunities. Don’t mistake your finger for the moon. You can be ruthlessly focused on the goal you have chosen, and I would encourage you to be. But don’t be stubborn on the path to get there. It will change, it will adapt, you will have to pivot as your customer understanding grows and to macro-trends in the market. I was asked to write a piece for the student newspaper. I found this amusing as to me, I had the intellectual capacity of a shrivelled prune. None-the-less I thought it could be fun. After all, my efforts to avoid revising for my medical finals were legendary, including cleaning the bath, administering myself with yellow fever and embalming my leg. This was a bit of a course change at this point in time, but off the back of that, I was featured in a national news story, that then led to my first health business. So the point is, I wouldn’t be here without that.
“Stay hungry, be open and learn from what you find out.”
These early conversations will also be teaching you about how to flex your style. As an entrepreneur you should always be reflecting on your findings when you speak to people. You can find patterns about what customers respond well to, what seems to really resonate, what language and vernacular they want to be spoken to in and importantly, what seems to miss the mark or make them lose interest. You can be refining this over the course of your interviews. The output of this is you will know exactly how to speak to your customer persona and that can form the basis of your marketing messages and will end up seducing your customer acquisition costs and likely increase your customer lifetime value as your customers will feel more valued and like you really ‘get them.’
This is exactly what you want as in the early days you need to be finding your early product evangelists, those who would crawl across broken glass with their flies unzipped for you. Why is this important? They will become your raving fans who will help sell for you. They will provide critical early positive reviews, they will provide the most in depth feedback you can use to improve your business and they will often be there with support (including financial) if times ever get tough. You never know, they could turn out to be early investors too.
How do you engineer an increased chance of this happening? Everyone wants to have something to believe in and if they don’t have their own thing, they will believe in your values and beliefs if it resonated with them. In this case, it is your business. If you speak with passion and speak about what you believe and you’re authentic and willing to appear a little vulnerable, what this does is it activates the limbic centres in the brain. These are our emotive centres. We then make a subconscious decision that we really like that idea and by extension, that person. We then use logic to justify that decision to ourselves and to others. Think how powerful that is. So if you speak in that way, you will draw people to you. Not only that, it feels great to talk like that and as you refine your style, you will have lethal content marketing ready for when you launch as you will be so used to speaking in that way and it will really show.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative data
We recommend you do quantitative analysis first before qualitative analysis, which is talking to customers as shown above. Why is this? Because you’ll need to first identify trends, market factors and the state of customer pain points and how your competitors are currently solving them. Then you can be much better informed about what topics to zoom in on in your customer interviews. Good places to do quantitative analysis is from reputable sources online, like journals, ONS figures, Forbes, even reputable blogs and forums as they can all give you a flavour of the above factors which you can then much more qualitative insights on by speaking to customers.
Once you have done this and understand your customers in immense detail, then and only then can you progress to building a product that has any prayer of solving their needs. When you have that, it underpins your marketing messages as you will understand how to reach them and compel them to take action. Do this, and do it well, and you can even destroy established competitors that could usually just out market you.
As Elon Musk said
“Starting a business is like eating glass and staring into the abyss.”
I know from personal experience the hardships of setting up a business and how tough it can be. Starting of business is hard, it’s lonely, people aren’t going to understand. One thing I can say for sure, one thing you need is courage. You need courage to stare down everyone, even the voice in your own mind to make this a success.
In the past me and my brain had up to this point set up a special understanding. “I scratch your back, you stick a knife in mine.” The point is, we are here and are committed to your success.
I hope you found this useful. I will be putting together a plethora of content in the coming weeks and months to help you step by step along the oft daunting and terrifying path of entrepreneurship. We are here to be a shining light in the darkness and are here for you every step of the way. If any of you have any questions or need any advice, please do contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
So keep moving forward, my friends.
“Committed to your success.”
Dr Jack Darby