One of my favorite quotes about business is, "my business would be great if it weren't for customers or employees". The business aspect that should make you lose sleep and wake up with night sweats is the customer. Customer trumps product for the prioritization of your time and energy. As a startup advisor and investor, my motto is until someone reaches into their pocket and pulls out one of their dollars--you don't have a business. Of course there are a few exceptions to this but for the majority of you this should be your motto too.

As you begin to roll out your product/service, you work your butt off to acquire and service those first oh-so-valuable customers. Ring the bell or bang the gong--we have a customer we all cheer.

But what have we done to get that customer in the door?

If you are the founder or a co-founder in the business and have customer-facing skills or experiences, you probably made that sale yourself. To that end, these first customers are probably prior acquaintances (you already have trust with them) that you made a direct pitch to. Inherent in that sale is the fact that at least a part of the sale is not because of the product/service value. Warning bells should be ringing now.

If this is more of a marketing-based sale (Facebook Ads anyone?) then you may have skimmed the smallest segment of your target audience (called the "Innovators"). Again, these customers do not represent the majority of your target audience and thus their interest comes with sales baggage. As an innovator, there lies an expectation that I get to influence the direction of the product since I am signing up early. As an innovator I have much lower expectations for value delivered.

Both of these scenarios are very dangerous to the future of your growth business.

Now, lets be realistic, you need these customers and they serve a vital purpose in establishing credibility for your product and company. I get that. Just don't overly rely on them and follow their every nuanced piece of feedback.

In other words, at some point, you will fire them as a customer. Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm was my bible in the 90's and so many terms that we still use today leapt off those pages including "early adopters".

His basic tenant still rings true today and that is that you must sell differently to the early majority of your customers than you did to your innovators and early adopters. To fail at crossing that mythical gap places a ceiling on your business growth.

Published on: Mar 2, 2016
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