GiftLast week I was interviewed by a magazine for entrepreneurs about upcoming marketing trends. The reporter asked me “what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?” I replied “entrepreneurs need to talk to their customers much more often.” The interview went in a different direction, but I wanted to write an article explaining how we do this at Digital Aptitude.

Talking to Your Existing Customers

Make a list of all your customers and sort them by the revenue they generate for your company. Then, eliminate the ones you don’t like working with, the ones that you can’t service profitably and the ones whose needs you aren’t meeting very well. It’s very important that you’re completely honest with yourself.
Now pick your top five. Call them and say the following: “We love working with you and we want to make sure you love working with us, too. Our clients are the number one source of great ideas and you’re one of our most important clients. Can I buy you lunch and pick your brain about how can get better at what we do?”
I know this sounds scary, but wouldn’t you be thrilled if one of your key vendors asked you for ideas on how they can better serve you?
Meet your top five clients for lunch and ask them the following questions:

  • What’s the most frustrating thing about your industry?
  • What’s the most frustrating thing about your job?
  • Where do you want to be in five years? What about in one year?
  • What do you like the most about working with us?
  • What do you wish we could do differently? What else? And, what else? (Keep repeating this question until they’re out of ideas.)
  • What’s the most confusing thing about our industry?
  • What do you wish companies like ours would offer?

Talking to Your Future Clients

Once you’ve talked to your existing clients, put together a list of your “dream team”: the 10 clients you would love to have. Use LinkedIn to find the decision-makers at these companies. For example, if you live in Seattle and want to target executive directors at local nonprofits, you can do this easily with LinkedIn.
Getting the attention of these people will take more work than getting the attention of your existing clients, but it’s absolutely possible if you’re persistent. I always reach out to them first through LinkedIn. If they don’t respond, I call their companies and ask for them. If that doesn’t work, I send them a book I think they’ll enjoy over FedEx along with a handwritten note. This usually does the trick.
Once I have their attention I take them out for lunch and ask them the same questions I ask our existing clients, in addition to these:

  • Do you work with a digital marketing agency?
  • What do you like about them?
  • What do you wish they did differently?
  • How did you find them?
  • Did you interview more than one agency? What made you choose this one?
  • What was the decision-making process like? Did you make the decision yourself or did someone help you? What criteria did you use to pick this agency?
  • What would be a sign they’re doing a good job? What would be a sign they’re doing a poor job?

Don’t be surprised if you sign up some of these people as clients. They’ll be really impressed that you’re actually listening to them and trying to understand what they really want.

An Unfair Advantage

Imagine how powerful it is to understand how your clients think. Writing marketing copy is easy because you now know what’s important to them. Creating new products or improving existing ones is easy because now you know what your clients like and what they don’t.
I’ve started seven businesses, sold three of them and have been an entrepreneur for 16 years. Nothing I’ve ever done has been more valuable than talking to existing clients and future clients, and asking them these questions. It takes work and time, but it’s absolutely worth it.