Using Your Customers to Drive Business
Growing businesses are by definition small and want to get bigger. The challenge for a growing business is creating a track record of customer referrals when you are new to the market.
As we built Avondale, we grew the business through our existing network. Former colleagues, friends, and our first clients gave us all the connections we needed to build the business. We always looked for ways to leverage our first client experiences into more business via their contacts and broader network.
Zvi Band is CEO of Contactually, a growing business aimed at helping relationship-driven businesses retain customer mindshare and generate business and referrals from the people in their network. We asked him for tips on how other growing businesses could tap their network and make the most out of tools, such as e-mail, phone, and in-person meetings. Here are the highlights of our discussion.
How do you tap into existing customers to drive your business.
I spend a lot of time networking with other start-up businesses. The incubator program where we got our start, 500 Startups, provides a lot of good leads. We partner with the other start-up businesses that we know and leverage those relationships for advice and ways to publicize our product. Tony [Cappaert], our COO, follows up with people he's met at conferences and the like in order to form new partnerships and source feedback from prospective users. You'd be surprised how much information and advice you can glean from the people in your network, even if they aren't professional contacts in nature.
What's the best or most efficient way to connect with your customers or contacts?
The method that you choose should depend on the nature and urgency of the communication. If it's a simple follow-up to help you retain mindshare with that contact, we recommend turning to e-mail first. When you send timely and personalized e-mails, you'll notice that your mindshare increases substantially over time, which can greatly benefit your business. However, e-mails should be short in nature and should serve as a gateway to a larger and more substantial conversation. In contrast, the phone is a faster and more direct method, but may not be advisable for introductory interactions and should be reserved for conversations down the road.
What does a growing business need in terms of tools and technology to build their network?
Big businesses usually use expensive sales-tracking tools with a lot of functionality. However, they can also be more difficult to use, and often include features that aren't applicable to your business. If you're a professional service provider, however, simply looking for a way to stay in touch with prospects and manage a follow-up process, look for something that does everything as automatically as possible. It's really helpful to have the ability to do things like sending standard e-mail responses if you want to stay in touch with a lot of contacts and look more like a big established business.
Send us your thoughts on building your business through network connections. Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.