Staying close to your customer is practical advice. If you’ve heard this before I want you to look a layer deeper as you read this. There are many examples of how to “stay close” especially from the perspective of a the startup.
However, this concept becomes less obvious as the company grows. Why? How you see the customer must change as you grow. Getting stuck with one view of how a customer should look will hinder growth of your empire. We all desire empires. It’s worth noting that at no point does some magical business genie walk up to you and say “It’s that time of the journey again! Change how you see your customer!”
I’ve outlined below a map for how the customer changes over time from 4 stages that I have experienced startup, growth, enterprise, mergers and acquisitions. I will give these examples in the form of a real estate technology sass product so you can relate it back to whatever is relevant for you.
Let’s say your product is a real estate application that helps real estate agents, here is how the 4 types of customers would evolve over time. I’m also going to define customer as “A person you spend time with who has the potential to hand you money to directly grow your business”
At this point spending time with your customer will look like an agent. You may spend time with the agent, possibly in the agents office. You would do this in order to watch how they experience the problem your technology is solving. To see the pain point occurring first hand is critical to early stage success of a product.
During the growth stage you will likely disconnect from the startup customer out of necessity to focus on the product and managerial duties. From scaling the infrastructure, to scaling the human capital. Now here is the tricky part. I’ve seen CTOs decide they want to stay in product, and focus on this stage. This is perfectly fine, do what you want to in life. However, if you want to level up, read on.
The growth customer a CTO would spend their time on will look like other technology business leaders. Think along the lines of “Who could I build a relationship with that has the ability to purchase 50 agent licenses, or 100 agent licenses?” For real estate, this would look like a small to medium sized brokerage. Specifically reaching out to technologists by whatever means you feel comfortable.
Do not take this as me turning the CTO into a sales person. The CTO has and always will be a sales person. A sales person is someone who communicates the value the organization brings to the market. A CTO should absolutely have the capacity to do this part of the job. In fact, every C-Level in the organization makes up the public’s view of the organization as a whole.
There are 2 ways you will end up selling. The first is you reaching out excited to share what you’ve done relating to the problem you solved to a technologist who has the need. This would look like you pairing up with the other to strategize how to make this happen because the problem is so great.
The second, your CEO or CMO networking with the new growth customer and then they decide to “put the geeks together” to make it happen. At this point even if the contract is signed and it’s strictly implementation, you are still selling. Contracts expire, your brand won’t, if you do this right. Remember, you represent the brand as a Chief, a perspective which should always be top of mind.
At this point you have successfully transitioned through multiple stages, and here your customer looks slightly different. The animal is bigger and takes more effort to wrangle. Here you want to consciously pay attention to transition out of growth to enterprise.
The flag to look for is when the initial enterprises start talking to you. If you’ve had success in the growth stage you’ll get the attention of larger enterprise customers. Once they pay attention to you, you need to direct your attention to them. Do exactly what you did in the growth stage, but understand the wants and needs of the enterprise customer. Also, watch out for Customerization Annihilation – CTOs survival guide to being enslaved by a customer
Mergers and acquisitions.
You’ve made it! You have dominated the market, new problems are a good thing. From here you can pick your path. Do you want to keep servicing your enterprise customers? Do you want to start buying up the Davids’ sneaking around your Goliath?
At this stage it’s more about being aware of your options. As T.I. would say “You can have whatever you’d like”
Hang out with the customer that you want. If it’s to acquire your smaller competitors spend time with them. If it’s to keep dominating your market, spend time retaining existing and obtaining new enterprise customers. If it’s going public, spend time with lawyers and accountants 😉
Transitioning between stages
It’s not always clear. Don’t know what stage you are in? Stuck on how to get to the next stage? Unsure what to focus on to level up? As I said above there is no Magic Genie who will come tap you on the shoulder and give you the answers. While i’m not a genie, I have experience that you should leverage. Reach out, tell me about what is going on so I can help. Click this link to reach out. Something else on your mind? Whatever you need, I’m here. Life is meant to be done together, just reach out.