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Do you take those loyal, key customers for granted?

OK.  We know that an executive’s job is not easy. Nor is there much time in a typical day for outreach of any kind. Especially in your growing company, you are drawn into daily process issues by all of your direct reports, often responding to questions and problems, leaving little time for strategic thought.

That’s bad behavior!

And that behavior results in leaving little time for outreach to the most critical component in your chain – your key customers. During CEO roundtables which I attend regularly, fellow CEO’s analyze a compatriot’s use of time during the once-a-year personal presentations each makes in turn.  If the presenting CEO is honest in the analysis of actual time spent each week, it is often revealing to all to see how many hours are spent turning inward toward meetings, operational management, or responding to emails or texts sent by others.

Then, what is a benchmark for customer outreach?

As a group, we set a bar of fifteen percent as the minimum amount of time each week that a good CEO should spend reaching out to the company’s key customers in a proactive attempt to find issues, trends, unmet product needs, and of course create bonds that make their jumping to a competitor more difficult.

But, do your customer know that they want?

[Email readers, continue here…]   We all remember the story of FedEx, where future customers didn’t know they wanted “absolutely, positively overnight” until they saw what that could do to make their businesses more competitive.

Find the pain

Do customers know what they want from their suppliers for future products?  We often ask our sales people to “find the pain” and show how our product solves that pain problem.  But it was Henry Ford who famously said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.”   Some new products arrive with no frame of reference.  FedEx, the automobile, the Internet, and many more examples, prove that there can be a significant market for ground-breaking ideas.

Show them a prototype

Do customers know what they like when they see it?  Of course, they do. So why not show a prototype, asking for input to improve it or adapt it to the needs of the customer?   With that kind of interaction, the customer becomes a partner in development, tied to the success of its outcome and much more willing to purchase it when completed.

Build relationships from the top

Is business built upon good relationships?  Of course, it is.  And who is best to create closer relationships at the top than two CEO’s speaking personally without distraction?   I have won deals after forming such trusting relationships and have lost deals to those who have beaten me to the opportunity.

The challenge is also the opportunity.  A good CEO spends time with critical customers and values the feedback and relationships that result.

  • Michael O'Daniel

    I don’t think it’s possible to spend “too much” time on customer engagement: not only making sure they’re satisfied, but asking for their feedback on product or service improvement / development, and enrolling them as referenceable evangelists. The more people at every level of your organization you can train to do that, the better off you’ll be. CEO to CEO contact is a must, but at the same time some of your best customer feedback — translatable into marketing or product development initiatives — can come from people at many other departments within your organization. And then your CEO has to be willing to pay attention to and act on that feedback.

  • Kent Deines

    We had 20 engineers in our company. It was common for about half to attended a trade show and be in our booth along with a few sales people and reps. The engineers would spend time with customers learning how they think and what they wanted. I think they had a good time and we were the better for it.
    The next week the company was would be split into two battling camps: the stayers and the goers. The experienced of meeting the customers changed the goers and there was a lot of friction between the two groups for the next few weeks.
    Unfortunately my partner and our CEO was a stayer and I was a goer. It didn’t help our relationship.

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