At one point, long ago, your business was the newbie. You were fighting for life, fighting for market share. You were likely either going after share from existing industry leaders, or blazing into a new market (and likely taking business away from someone who had done it the old way).
So now you’re established, you have momentum, you have a sizable chunk of your market. Bully for you. And now, new upstarts are after your turf.
They’re smaller, scrappier, nimbler, faster. They’re interesting because they’re new, and they’re getting more press coverage and buzz because they’re new. And now, your customers are asking questions.
You should have seen this coming. But how you react, how you reinforce and expand your customer relationships from this point forward, will define your growth and success for years to come.
Yes, you should obsess about your competitors. You should watch their every move. But that doesn’t mean you follow their step, get into a feature war, or start acting defensive.
Turns out, the best way to defend against upstarts in your industry is good strategy from day one. It boils down, in part, to three things:
1. Know the customer better than they do
Your knowledge of your customer – who they are, what their problems are, what pain they’re trying to address, etc. – should be growing daily. You have a huge head start on any new business (and those new businesses will likely make mistakes and missteps due to their lack of customer knowledge).
Every day, you listen to your customers. You see how they’re changing, how their problems are changing, how their priorities are changing. Your product strategy, your business strategy, reflects that customer understanding. And your customers will continue to trust the organization that knows them best.
2. Talk to the customer more than they do
Not to your customer, but with your customer. If you have a call center environment, that’s a good start. But ensure those conversations aren’t just reactive. Aren’t just solving inbound problems. What are you learning? How are you reaching out to learn more? How are you being proactive to solve problems and delight your customers?
What percentage of your organization has direct contact to your customers? How many people in roles that don’t require daily interaction with customers still get first-person information, or are able to interact with customers in online forums, social networks, etc.?
3. Earn, keep and leverage more trust than they do
You’re the incumbent, so you should have the benefit of the doubt. This is earned. These are your customers to lose. What trust do you have built up? When something goes wrong, how many customers jump up to defend you?
If your customer relationships are tenuous to start, many of those customers may jump at the chance to try something (or someone) new. But if you’ve been investing in customer relationships from the start, if you’ve made it a priority to build trust and respect into your products, services and business, it’ll be that much harder for your customers to even consider switching to someone new.
Matt Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.