Every company says customers are important. This is exponentially more true for superconsumers, the top 10 percent of customers that drive 30-70 percent of category sales and 99 percent of insights for how to grow. Conversations with customers might lead to a helpful customer review or at least some helpful feedback for how to improve. You can test drive tactics, like raising prices without angering your customers.
The challenge is this is often just lip service versus real action. Too many leaders treat it like 'eating your vegetables', but some of the best leaders and entrepreneurs I know see talking to customers the right way, which is dessert. They always look forward to it, have it every day and ask for seconds if they can. Here are a few tips from successful leaders who make this a regular practice.
Meet a superconsumer on every business trip.
Walt Freese is an icon in the natural and organic food and beverage business. He was most recently the CEO of Teton Waters Ranch, a leading brand of 100 percent grass-fed and grass-finished beef. He grew Teton with the same principles he put into place when he was the CEO of Ben & Jerry's for nine years.
Before big data and analytics was in vogue, Walt figured out that one percent of US households (a little over one million households) drove 80 percent of Ben & Jerry's sales. That's not a typo. Even though the Ben & Jerry's business model was a similar "mass marketing and sales" business model like the rest of food and beverage, he began building out direct to consumer capabilities in the 2000's that rivaled a top tier financial services or retail business.
He built a list of these superconsumers and used it tactically, where if he knew sales might be soft for in a specific month he could blast a coupon to the supers and could predict that sales would spike a few million dollars.
But he also used it strategically, as a sounding board for running his business. Whenever he traveled, he asked his assistant to ping a handful of superconsumers in each city and he would make time to meet and talk with them. He would get to know them personally, hear their feedback for Ben & Jerry's, but also discretely test his marketing, sales and strategy to check for weak spots or figure out where to double down. Eventually he encouraged the rest of his leadership team to do so.
This was what helped him double revenue, grow operating earnings seven times and launch Ben & Jerry's globally into 23 new markets during his decade of leadership.
Eat, drink and talk with superconsumers in the wild.
Brandt Fuse is the creator of Sumofish, a cutting edge graphics design and apparel brand, specializing in t-shirts of superconsumers who love fish/fishing (the mascot is the blowfish...a fat fish, hence Sumofish) Japanese food, Hawaii, beer and Bay Area sports.
He is living proof of my big data finding that a superconsumer of one category is a superconsumer of nine others. His designs on the t-shirts combine distinct images that re-create the blowfish in surprising ways. He has a focused niche, but Sumofish is growing nicely because his designs are captivating, different and authentic to Fuse.
Sumofish has built a great following of customers thanks to his hands on approach where he schedules a significant amount of time personally attending and being present at festivals and fairs. Specifically, he is very intentional about recognizing and ranking his superconsumers through his e-commerce channel
These are customers who nearly always order more t-shirts whenever they launch a new design and send a pre-sale mailer. Fuse deliberately picks festivals and fairs in cities where his best customers are, and makes an effort to meet them, chat with them and eat with them.
Buy a competitive customer a beer, and make a friend.
Keith Levy is the Global President for Business Development for the Mars Company, but a few jobs ago he was the head of sales for Anheuser-Busch. They had a practice where they gave every employee in sales and marketing a weekly budget that they could use to buy an Anheuser-Busch beer for their customers they ran into, but also customers who were drinking competitive beers. Sometimes it was refused, but most times it was met with a smile and that sometimes led to a conversation. And even if they didn't convert a competitive customer, Keith always got something out of it.
This practice that goes back 50-60 years to August Busch Jr., whose mantra was 'making friends is our business'. This became an Anheuser Busch mantra, but I think is a great one to adapt for all startups and entrepreneurs. Think of your customers like your friends and treat them accordingly.