What your first customers teach you about your business

5th October 2023

At a glance

  • Once your new business starts attracting customers, take the opportunity to ask them how you could improve your offering.
  • You can learn what your customers value, plus more about the market, such as the types of people buying from you and what they think your competitors do well.
  • Build on the feedback you gather quickly so you can take advantage of the opportunities as swiftly as possible. Check in with customers again to see what they think of any changes you’ve made.

Your company’s first customers are a rich source of information about everything from themselves and other potential customers, to the market, suppliers, competitors and even your business itself.

Learning from your customers is important – it could shape your business’s early performance and growth, and potentially, your long-term strategy. To learn those lessons, you’ll want to establish good communication with your early customers so you can build immediate enhancements that accelerate your success.

Once you have launched in the market, you’ll start to learn about your customers’ profiles, likes and behaviours. By engaging with these early customers, you can also find out more about the wider market – information such as how much others charge for a similar product or service, how you might be able to upgrade your offering, and how much extra they might pay.

Andrew Shepperd, Co-Founder of Entrepreneurs Hub, says: “Find out what people want to buy and sell it to them – it’s simple but critical to keep remembering this. Say you make an electronic device that works on two frequencies. By speaking to your customers, you may find that you could add a third frequency and charge more for it. To do this, you need to determine whether they would use that frequency, how often, whether the market is price sensitive, and how much extra they would be willing to pay.

“Another example is looking to enhance your engineering service. For example, could you offer an on-call engineer within 24 hours if customers pay a premium? If so, would they want and pay for that?”

How to learn what customers value

There are many ways to gather feedback, depending on your business type and customers. If you have just a few large customers, you could simply ask to meet for a coffee or have a brief phone call. Some may want to give feedback, others won’t, or won’t have time, so be sensitive, humble and polite.

Remember, this is about feedback only. Don’t try to corner them with a sales pitch, and cut it short if you sense they’re getting bored or annoyed.

If you have more customers, you could use a feedback survey, perhaps with a gift or prize draw for respondents. Or you could create loyalty schemes, membership clubs or focus groups, with benefits for customers who participate in giving feedback.

What to ask

Andrew says that a good place to start is asking your customers: ‘What is the most valuable thing we do for you?’ It might not be what you thought – and if so, you can build on that element to increase the value. Ask how you can improve, what your client likes about you over the competition and what will keep them returning.

Your clients can also help you find out more about the market, including your competition, suppliers and other potential customers. You could ask questions such as:
•    What are the service levels in the industry, including typical lead times for quote, supply and payment? 
•    How often do you intend to buy from us compared to one of our competitors?
•    Would you be open to exclusivity deals or partnerships, in exchange for only buying from us?

If the interaction goes well, you can ask more detailed and open questions, such as:
•    Why did you buy from us? 
•    What do you like about what we do? 
•    What would you change about our offering or service? 
•    What do you like about our competitors?
•    What can’t you buy from us? Would you like to buy those things in future?
•    What one thing could we do that would move our business to the next level, in your eyes? 

Similarly, it can also be helpful to hear from potential customers who have ultimately dealt with a competitor instead. How could you secure their business in the future?

How to build on feedback

Once you’ve gathered information from multiple customers, look for trends and common themes. Aim to implement any learnings quickly – if you are busy with other aspects of the business, it could be worth hiring someone to collate this information, analyse it and execute improvements.

After you’ve made these changes, ensure they are working by seeking more feedback. Testimonials are important for your marketing, so ask happy customers for them, to use on your website and social media channels. Get as many testimonials as you can. Also, ask satisfied customers for referrals and introductions to other people they know who might benefit from your offering.

These feedback exercises can also help you build your relationship with the customer and learn about them – for example, their lives, interests, challenges, and how they win in their businesses – so you can take all these lessons to help win in yours.

How we can help

If you’re starting out on your business journey, get in touch today to find out how we can support you and your company.

SJP Approved 19/09/2023