Want to build long-term customer relationships? Get them involved in creating your products and building your company. Here's a five step program:
- Step 1: Study your customer base. Locate the prospects and customers who are most knowledgeable and passionate about your market. Research their interests and learn their thoughts. Find out where they think the industry is headed. Understand their business models, strategic goals and decision-making processes.
- Step 2: Get your customers involved. Actively solicit your customers' help in defining how your offerings can be applied in the real world. Ask them to use their expertise to understanding the basic characteristics of your customer base. Give those customers a way to define that vision using your offerings.
- Step 3: Nurture a customer community. Create opportunities for customers to interact with each other and with you. Get them to brainstorm solutions, co-design new products, and help define your sales processes. Let your best customers become the leaders of your customer base. Get involved in the community yourself.
- Step 4: Give your customers credit. Ensure that customers who help you define the direction of your company and offerings get public credit. Encourage customers to answer other customer's questions, characterize your offerings, and assist in making your firm successful. Provide incentives, like prizes and awards.
- Step 5: Turn customers into partners. Ideally, you should make doing business with your firm into a profit-generating activity for your customers. Let them create and sell their own products based upon your offerings. Tie the success of the customer's firm to the success of your own firm, as well as to the success of their own customers.
The above is adapted from a conversation with Patricia Seybold whose groundbreaking bestseller Outside Innovation explains how to move from a traditional customer relationship toward strategic innovation and collaboration.