Whatever you’re offering isn’t right for everyone. Though it’s painful to admit, especially when you’re trying to get something off the ground and can use customers, you know there’s a beginning and end to the problem you’re trying to solve—if not, you probably need to refine your idea.
So, potential customers are qualified by the presence of a need: “You don’t need a tool like this just yet. Try X, instead.”
…or the complexity of a need: “This is designed for small businesses with less than 100k pageviews a month. You need something more like Y to handle that much traffic.”
You get the idea—you have a target customer. Of course. But, how do you handle a qualified customers’ evolving needs over the course of your relationship? Many companies try to decrease churn by adding features (put simply) designed to meet those needs as they grow. That’s a fair way to handle it, especially if your goal is to grow, and you’re not moving outside your realm of expertise.
Growing by Helping Customers Grow
What if you don’t want to grow by feature expansion? Perhaps your time is better spent focusing on the customers who can use what you already have and improving their experience. Then, if your product is working for someone, that means their needs will inherently become more complex as they grow. It often means that you’re helping your customer grow so much that they won’t be a good fit for your product anymore.
First of all, bravo! You’re helping customers get better at what they do. But now, you’ve decided to fit squarely into a customer’s larger story; you’re simply a chapter. And, what’s a great chapter without a perfect segue to the next? You’ve probably got the transition into your chapter nailed down. What about the transition into the chapter after you?
Design with the End in Mind
When you’re a chapter in a customer’s story, they can become your best advocates. You need them to have a positive impression of their time with you, so that you can get those valuable word-of-mouth referrals. What’s the part they’re likely to remember the most? The last. The most recent. You know this as the “recency effect”.
How much attention are you giving to crafting your customers’ transition from you to someone else?
- Is cancellation with you difficult? Don’t make it impossible to close an account. In fact, make it painless.
- Do you ask for feedback in a way that doesn’t annoy them? Don’t force people to tell you why before you’ll let them cancel. Ask them after you assure them it’s been taken care of.
- Are you armed with suggestions for other vendors that customers can move to when their needs change? If a customer’s needs have outgrown you, help them get their needs met. If they don’t understand their own needs, try to help them, but always be willing to let them go. They might come back.
If they’ve had a good experience with you, and you help them through this process, they’ll end up raving fans. That’s the kind of tribe you want talking about you.
Talk About the End
Once that mentality is in place, you can talk openly about it! You’re confident in your chapter of a customer’s story, and they can now see the benefit of your product while growth is on their mind as well. If you feature data portability (which you should if you have evergreen data), you can brag about that before a lead ever turns into a customer.
Personally, I’ve cited this as a benefit of hiring me for years. It’s worked great. I focus on the client and how us working together will enable them to grow. I’m more interested in empowering them than I am in retaining them as clients (that’s also why I don’t do maintenance contracts). I’m chock-full of positive referrals because they know they’re not handcuffed to me. For instance, on a website, I make sure a client knows how to edit everything, and I don’t charge them when they have questions I didn’t cover. Further, I make sure they know that they can take my work to other developers who will find well-written and documented code.
If you want more data to support this idea than my experience: me, too. I can’t find much research at all on this concept. What we can do, though, is extrapolate based on something we do know: on average, customers tell 15 people about their good experiences, and 24 people about their bad experiences (source).
So, I say: finish well. Be comfortable with your product fit, and focus on making your customer grow. It’s hard to forget the most enjoyable chapter in a good book.