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To Build and Own Your Market, Become One with Your Customer!

A very Zen-like expression, don't you think? Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and wisdom gained through direct insight. And that is exactly what you need to build a market and create and sustain successful customer relationships. You need to "be enlightened" about their overall business, not about just their "pain points;" how it works, what they need to succeed, how competition affects them, and, of course, where your product fits and how it helps that business. And finally, it means developing and maintaining a "life of the company" commitment to that market and those customers. Becoming one with your customer is the key to your current and future success.

But many entrepreneurs only give this lip service, "talking the talk" about listening to reacting to their market and customer needs. What is really necessary is to be "walking the talk" of UNDERSTANDING that market and not just listening to but anticipating market and customer needs and then developing, delivering and supporting products that meet those need and enhance that market.

No question, a tall order, especially for an entrepreneurial company, with limited resources, but it can done and can pay huge dividends for the small business that embraces it. Here are some ways you can bring your company to one with your customer:

Don't just understand your market, live it.
Keep on top of market statistics, but knowing them is one thing, knowing what those statistics mean is another. What are the "pain points?" Where is growth coming from? What are the new trends? How will they affect current product offerings or planned enhancements/new products?Go to trade shows (they're not just for exhibiting, there's usually a lot of market intelligence to be gathered, talking to attendees and attending various breakout sessions).Speak at trade shows or industry gatherings.Have someone in your organization (no matter how small you are) become a "thought leader" through white papers or blog posts, based on what you learn/believe.

Make a product installation a training experience.
For early customer installations, send out a team (obviously, what you can afford, based on the size of your company) whose job it is to both train the customer in the use of your product and to learn about that customer's business and how they will use the product.  What's learned should be documented, digitally and the results shared with the rest of the company. Use this to add to the company's collective market intelligence and as input to its sales, marketing and product development plans.

Continue to use customers as learning venues
Make customer surveys an ongoing part of your business, where you make it a point to get every customer's opinion at least twice a year, not just about your product, but your service and what else you ought to be doing.In addition, with very happy customers, ask them to allow you to have a new hire spend a day with them, to better understand their business and how they're using your product. Have a group de-brief when the employee returns and document the results. You'd be surprised what you learn from a "newbie" who looks at things through fresh eyes.

Make customers a part of your product development cycle
Never develop a product or enhancement that hasn't had customer "fingerprints" on it. It can be as mundane as conducting a customer focus group, in person, or on a conference call to review some planned enhancements or new product developments. Or it can be as extensive as having a special work group within your user organization that prioritizes enhancements, makes new product requests and acts as a sounding board for all new product plans. Remember, customers love buying products that they asked for!

Over-do customer communication and commitment
You almost can't communicate too much with customers. That can't have too much information about your company or your products. Whether that be through your website, a blog, a newsletter, various social media or all four, keep communications constant. But also, ensure that there is an ability for two-way communication; that customers have a way to express themselves, or even vent. Lastly, ensure that your commitment to the market and customer is evident through everything you communicate  This is how you create and maintain a customer community.

Building a market position and creating and sustaining customer relationships are critical to your success. Being Zen-like and gaining enlightenment and wisdom, becoming one with your customer is the basis for that success.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things.He's been there.May success be with you!

What unique ways have you developed to become one with your customer. Tell me how in your comments.It will help other entrepreneurs!

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