How to win the hearts and minds of early customers for your startup

Many of the everyday fundamentals of our Western lifestyles owe a debt of gratitude to the Ancient Greeks – democracy, drama, war epics – and generally lying around philosophising and thinking about stuff. All beloved activities in the Eastern Mediterranean 2,500 years ago. Greek culture, well at least their food and music, is something we celebrate at our house – ouzo, moussaka, lashings of taramasalata and a chunky feta salad. Music comes from some battered CDs collected over the years from numerous Greek Island-hopping adventures.

Greek dancing and plate smashing are optional and mostly accidental, but my affection for all-things Greek stems from the fact that I met my future wife as a student whilst on holiday in Corfu. A Greek holiday romance which blossomed to the sun drenched sounds of bouzouki, fuelled by souvlaki and drenched in ouzo. Dôs moi pâ stô, kaì tàn gân kīnā́sō.

The Greek influence on our way of life is also evidenced from their pioneering attitudes towards love. Love came in many forms for the Greeks, perhaps the complexity of their understanding of love was due in part to their selection of eternally, irrepressible deities etched on pottery? You know the ones, the Goddess of Leto from the island of Delos, with hordes of hoplites in attendance.

The Iliad, the smash-hit blockbuster page-turner from epic poet Homer, was a love story, a war provoked by a young man who was unable to keep his passion in his trousers, and an attractive married woman who sacrificed a husband and a perfectly acceptable job as Queen of Sparta for a cheeky rendezvous with a younger lover. Quite a few of the Greek dramas end with someone killing a current or former lover in an act of vengeful jealousy.

However, they also treasured the purity of love, and the spiritual satisfaction it engenders. Eros was the eponymous Greek God of love. All statues seemingly obliged to have his manhood on display, taking the open air, but as the son of Aphrodite the lascivious love genes ran strongly in the family. While other famous deities such as Zeus, Artemis, and Poseidon have since tumbled down the rankings, Eros remains a prominent presence today.

All you need is love. The Beatles sang it. If music be the food of love, play on. Shakespeare wrote about it and Hallmark manufactured it. We’ve found a place for love in movies, books, television, radio and our personal lives, but what about our startups?

Why love? Well, as startups grow, they often lose sight of the number one priority – customers – and fixate on product, cashflow or bigger offices, but customer retention and winning new accounts to build your customer base are the essential drivers of your startup success. Existing customers are easier to upsell and more profitable than constantly acquiring new customers – it costs five times more to find a new customer than to retain a current customer – whilst winning new customers is about gaining market share. In both cases, it’s simple: show your customers you love them, and they will love you back.

Sometimes, small changes have a big impact on how existing customers perceive the quality of your relationship and make the difference between loyalty and high churn rates. When churn happens, clients stop using the product or service, switch to a competitor, or move to an in-house alternative. They’ve lost the romance. Similarly to win new clients, it’s more about the relationship than the transaction. You have to make them feel special, that they are important to you, and that the first impressions give a clear sign as to how working together will be.

Nurturing relationships with your customers is a crucial part of growing a startup. In this age of automation and innovation, caring for your customers has never been more important.  At any moment, an unhappy customer can share their opinion through social media and negatively affect your brand. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to create an human experience for your customers to help develop your company’s relationship with them into a loving and lasting one.

Walt Disney said it best, Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. Creating love between your company and your customers can help scale positive word of mouth that’s absolutely priceless. Creating a customer-focused culture should not be overlooked. Most businesses are failing when it comes to the customer experience, which is your opportunity to enchant their customers into becoming part of your company’s community and revenue stream.

So how do you start the romance with a new customer? It’s all about being thoughtful and having the right mindset. Price is the value of the relationship, not just for an immediate transaction, so don’t focus on closing the deal as the only priority. The aim is to build a long-term relationship, developing a horizon for future working, and not simply an immediate invoice.

It’s romance and engagement, not speed dating, think lifetime value. If a startup builds a strong brand and customer community from scratch, then it will build brand affinity, a strong emotional link between the brand values and customers. From brand affinity comes brand loyalty from customers, which is key to build a healthy and sustainable business over time.

So how do you start a ‘customer romance’ from the first meeting with a new prospect, and convert them into a loyal customer, generating a sustainable revenue stream? Here are my thoughts.

1. Set the scene Be a psychologist, shape how the initial ‘feel-think-feel’ experience happens. This process happens in the first 60 seconds of a meeting and shapes how the client anticipates the meeting will be as an experience. Be open, intuitive, genuine and personable. Get to know each other from the outset before any mention of the business purpose of the meeting.

2. Be curious, take their agenda not yours live in your customer’s world, be counter intuitive, following your agenda will kill the conversation. Show you’re interested in their business, identify some immediate needs and quick wins you can help with – add value, looking at the bigger picture and longer term.

3. Don’t come on too strong too soon Join the dots for the client’s thinking – link statements with insights. It’s like jazz, learn the harmony and improvise over the top, give them a feeling of assurance and excitement, the art of the possible from working with you. Wow them!

4. Always listen Playback their words to create a connection: ‘So, if I’ve heard you correctly…’ reflecting back shows listening skills, validates where you’re at, and helps you to organise their thinking. Build intimacy and engagement in the conversation.

5. Have insight Be prepared to directly describe a real problem and your solution from experience, demonstrate the value you bring. Serve as a sounding board, facilitate by providing an answer that stimulates the conversation. Listen with curiosity and interest to make an authentic connection.

6. Watch their watch, mind your mindset Help them simplify, clarify and focus on their issue, help identify the critical factors in their decision. Be a collaborator, focus on being helpful in their decision-making process, managing their time, not making a sale.

7. Talk about yourself less and your client more Take them on a journey of thinking about ‘what could be’. Frame the issue in your client’s language then build a relationship road map, a picture of what success looks like for them from being with you.

8. Ensure your conversations have energy Be alert, engage sincerely, share your thinking. Create empathy – we are in this together, identify the common ground and create win-win scenarios. See yourself sat the client’s side of the conversation – how you see it is how you sell it. Your energy in a meeting can create opportunities.

9. Build trust to understand what is not being said Make yourself relevant to the client’s personal goals. Let them see you are investing time in them as a person, and they will open up and offer insights into what is not being said.

10. Be a thought leader, create the possibility of something The quality of your thinking reveals your credibility, stimulate your client’s thinking, not close a sales opportunity. The less you sell today, the more you sell in the future.

11. Consistently make gestures Offer a point of view or some learning, ‘I’d like to see if there’s something we can help you with and share the benefits of our experience, and see what success means to us both’

12. Be the person your dog wants you to be when you get home Ok, wet noses aside, the unconditional love of a dog is the simplest and most uncomplicated love you’ll ever experience. For dog lovers, the greeting you get from your dog when you get home at night is often the highlight of the day. You know what I mean!

Would you go out on a date with someone who you did not know and called you out of the blue? Of course not, you’d expect a little chat, exchange, flirting and romancing first, you’d want to have an idea who’s asking you out, and know something about them.

It’s the same for business decision makers, a cold sales call is bound to have less chances of securing that first meeting as opposed to someone who has invested time to get to know you however enticing their proposition. With so many touch points challenging for your customer’s attention from your competitors, you need to invest time and creativity engaging with prospects to get their attention and build up to a first meeting.

With passion, knowledge and creativity, show you can help them and get on their radar, spend time developing why they should be interested in you and then how you can help them, showing the potential value you can bring before you try to sell to them.

Forget the romantic myth and Disney movie catalogue. The notion that if love (romantic or entrepreneurial) is ‘meant to be’, that it’ll be easy, is an illusion. So remember, it’s seduction not speed dating, you want a relationship not a transaction. You need to ask for that first date and then romance your customer, because if you’re not romancing your customers, who is?

Greek romances were always an adventure tale, in which a virtuous heroine and her valiant lover are separated by a series of misadventures and hurdles, but are eventually reunited and live happily together. Ancient Greeks valued Philia over all other types of love – a deep feeling of friendship including loyalty, the sharing of emotions (good and bad), and a sense of shared togetherness. Philia is a virtuous, intimate companionship that has the power to transform eros from lust to spiritual understanding. Why not seek that with your prospects and customers – be genuine in your relationships, win their hearts and minds by making them feel loved.

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