There are tons of amazing articles on  how to find the right investor, what investors to avoid and how to pitch investors. Having lived the "Tale of Two Start-ups," one with capital investors and one without, I have learned in both cases that the best investor you will ever find is right in front of you.

It's your customer.

In my second startup, we stayed a mile away from any investor. Scarcity, combined with a desire for growth, forced us to focus intently on the customer--because they paid our bills. Furthermore, we focused intensely on every prospect--because they were the only hope that we could grow beyond two dudes and hire more people.

We even mailed out a thank-you letter to each prospect after they spent any amount of time hearing our spiel. We took every one of them seriously, and they felt it.

Then the magic happened.

How your customer invests in you solving their problems.

Once we started to onboard new customers and focus on their needs...they paid us. In return, we could hire more amazing people, which then allowed us to service additional needs, which would allow us to grow more customers. Doing this for five consecutive years (without investment), pushed us on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private American companies in 2016 and 2017.

We were shocked by what we had accomplished, but then we started to understand what making your customer your primary investor does to accelerate growth. It forges a proper alignment to your customer. But it's not easy and without a cost.

Customer support has become more about closing cases than the customer 

Things like reducing customer handle time and speed to close out a case have become the primary focus. Process and metrics point out getting the customer to shut up and stop calling, rather than insuring a customer is truly satisfied. Beyond the product they bought, did the experience exceed expectations? 

Practical Tip: Roll out a simple one question customer satisfaction pulse survey that you send routinely to every customer. 

You aren't investing enough in Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Now this doesn't mean just buying more and more software. Customer relationship platforms, like Salesforce, are just some of the tools you use to guide your team toward relating with your customer in the best possible way. Customers don't want more mass personalized emails, they want you to truly know their name and their needs.

Practical Tip: Create a standardized step-by-step sales process flow and configure into your CRM to create a predictable customer experience.  

It's more about your internal process than the customer's journey.

Have you mapped out how your customer wants to journey with you through marketing, sales and service? Have you asked them what a long-term relationship looks like to them? Well, you are like the 99.82357 percent of us who care more about our business, than that of our customer. It's easy to design internal systems that it is to listen to our customers who sit outside our walls every day.

Practical Tip: Meet with five to eight customers and ask them what information and interaction they want from you as they journey through marketing, sales and service. They'll give you the answers; now document the journey they expect.

Your executives don't know the names of your customers

I am sure most executives can rattle off company names and recognize logos of customers, but I am talking about the names of the folks that have boots on the ground. An income statement or balance sheet names away the names of the customers that make or break your numbers. In stead of just pouring over financial, pick up the phone and call a customer. You will be surprised at how excited they are to hear from you. Start and never stop calling.

Practical Tip: Have each executive meet with a different customer weekly to listen to their needs and then share what you learned in your weekly executive briefing. 

You are forgetting the current customer while you chase after the next one

They say "one bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," but many companies keep chasing after new birds while letting go of the ones they already have. Statistics say that it can be up three times more expensive to acquire a new customer than keep an old one. You existing customer is not going your gateway to recurring business, but can create a pipeline of referrals that is 10x the value of their relationship. 

Practical Tip: Take marketing spend and invest it in connecting with the customer base you already have. In any business, it's better business to keep the business you already have.

Invest in Your Customers, Who With Every Dollar Are Investing in You

I think it's safe to say that the people you invest the most time with tend to be the ones that stick with you as life takes its unpredictable ups and downs. Customers are no different. Your customers are investing their hard-earned money in hope that you can partner with them to solve problems they can't solve themselves. And, at the end of the day, every penny the customer sends your way goes to paying someone's salary, matching a 401K or even distributing a dividend payment.

Customers truly control the destiny of your business -- don't you think it's time to start treating them as your number one investor?

Published on: Dec 15, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.