We need a shift in the way many of us think about our roles as marketers and entrepreneurs.

Customers means anyone who takes an action with you, whether it's paid or not. It's not wrong, but it's incomplete, on two dimensions.

The first dimension is that the transaction is just the beginning; fulfillment is what grows customer lifetime value.

The second dimension is that we live in an interrelated world, and one person's end of cycle dovetails with another person's beginning of cycle.

Ultimately, the more success you experience and create, the less marketing matters. This means we shouldn't settle for the transaction of making a sale. We need to aim to give our customers a transformation, whether in the form of solving their problems or providing delight.

How do you turn a transaction into a transformation?

There are 3 levels.

3 Levels of Turning a Transaction into a Transformation

Level 1: Deliver under good circumstances.

Your product has to work, otherwise you can't build a business.

For example, there are plenty of training programs marketed by people who say, "I did this and it worked, so it'll work for you too!" But no matter how good the course creator's intentions might be, what worked for one person in one situation won't work for most people in most situations.

If you can't deliver a desirable transformation, or you don't understand that transformation comes from changing behavior and changing outcomes, then your product won't work. Your product is broken and needs fixing.

The keys to "fixing" your product are:

  • Care about your prospects and customers. To focus your thinking, ask yourself what results your customers would want you to guarantee. You may not be able to actually guarantee those results right now, but this is a good way to get clarity on what to aim for.

  • Create visibility so that your market knows your product exists and understands how your product works. Demonstrate how it will deliver the transformation they desire.

  • Be flexible and iterate. Let your customers' feedback guide you as you develop each iteration of your product, in a process of co-creation.

Level 2: Deliver under realistic and challenging conditions, including distractions, messy life stuff, unexpected user behavior, and head trash.

Your customers face all this every day! And it's compounded by their rollercoaster of a relationship with you--from ignorant optimism in the moment they buy your product, to informed pessimism as they notice some things about your product are less than perfect for them, to informed optimism as they become more familiar with (and more skilled at using) your product.

You can help them by:

  • Understanding the challenges. Get inside your customer's head, and look at your offering with a beginner's mind.

  • Mitigating the challenges. Make changes that improve the customer experience.

  • Pre-empting the challenges. Give your customer a realistic picture of the road ahead, including any bumps they're likely to encounter along the way.

Level 3: Wow your customers.

Show that you care...

... about them, their goals, their values, their hopes, dreams and ambitions...

... about their context, the things going on in their lives, and the people close to them...

... about their vision for a better world, the vision they care about.

Go the extra mile. How can you show your customers that you care about what they care about?

In short, your product has to work--even under challenging circumstances--and wow your customers! It's hard, but it's worth it if you're in it for the long haul.

A transformative experience turns strangers into customers, and customers into result-getters and word-spreaders... who turn yet more strangers into customers, and so on.

That's the key to getting more customers.

Published on: Aug 29, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.