As an entrepreneur, you strive to develop deep, lasting and meaningful relationships with your customers. But in a fast-changing marketplace, this is no easy task. Market forces beyond your control can change the landscape drastically. Just consider how Google is now seriously impacting the health care field and automotive industries, or the way social media has changed how companies engage with customers. No company is immune to the risks and disruption inherent in a world of VUCA (one that's volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).
Successful companies combat these forces by shifting their strategy from just providing a product or service toward offering total solutions. If done well, this shift can help you build deeper customer relationships that increase the lifetime value of your customers and help you withstand the gale winds of creative destruction.
Here are four techniques that will help you stay ahead of the curve.
1. Scan wider. Look at your marketplace through an external lens, from the outside-in. Instead of focusing internally on levers you can control, such as investments and initiatives, start by examining the major external forces of change in your industry. This broader view will help you spot signals of change sooner, so you can get a fresh angle on serving your customer even better. News articles, industry publications, and even customer interviews are rich troves of external clues about impending change, especially if you incorporate them into your strategic planning.
2. Map your customer ecosystem. Don't just gather information through your own interactions with customers. Create a map of all potential connections that exist in your ecosystem. As you develop this map, make sure you include your customers' customers, industry regulators, political influencers, and other key stakeholders you may not have direct interactions with today. Creating this map enables you to see the broader picture of potential drivers changing your customers' businesses, beyond what your current limited narrow view would allow.
3. Identify top customer business drivers. With external market forces identified and your customer ecosystem mapped out, focus on determining those business drivers that have the highest impact on your customers. Is it operational efficiency, expanding product lines, or better marketing that is critical to your customers' success? Expanding the conversation beyond your own products or services (and showing genuine interest in your customers' businesses) will result in deeper relationships.
4. Collaborate with your customers. Once you have started a strategic dialog, you can then shift the focus toward co-creating win-win solutions. Even if you are not currently providing products or services in new growth areas, this is how you get your customers' attention. For example, if operational efficiency or innovation are becoming critical customer success factors, discuss changing what you offer them and how. By exploring and investing in areas of mutual interest, you will signal how serious you are about your customers' future success.
It may not be easy to shift traditional mindsets and embrace the four approaches sketched above. But once you prove that you can help your customer beyond the tried and true, your company will reap many benefits as well.
Co-authored with Steve Krupp and Vivek Kumar, CEO and senior consultant, respectively, of Decision Strategies International