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Are Your Customers on Your Team?

(May 18, 2010) - For the start up, every person and every advisor you need to hire represents a critical commitment of your company's available time and cash. In essence, you trade those resources for the knowledge and skill (intellectual assets), contacts (social capital), and the pure energy, ideas, and actions you expect that person to bring to your budding organization.

But what if you could get some of same resources without having to give up any of your precious start-up funds?

You can - if you put your customers - and those who you'd like to have as customers - on your team! Here are three ways to start:
    1. Stop thinking of customers as 'them'. Customers are stakeholders who can help you move and shape your vision. Try posing a provocative question that will trigger thoughtful responses. For instance, my company created a completely new way to predict how people perform in teams--but we were struggling to find a way to properly present it. So I started asking, 'Why do people say they want team players, and then hire people who aren't?' Instant reaction! We not only got some great feedback, but some of our customers even went out and recruited other customers for us!

    When a company is in the early stages of development, input from vision-oriented people can be especially valuable, and 'Vision' people are intrigued by big-picture questions. They'll probably give you good advice, so make sure you let them know how you've used it.

    2. Add some customers to the marketing R&D team. Find a low-risk way--if you can--to get them engaged in using your product in a way that will deliver real business value. If you know they have a problem that your product can solve, let them apply your solution (at least once) at no charge. We learned pretty quickly that if we gave people enough product to use for one solution, they would experience the value of a pre-hire positive I.D. on real team-players, and it would bring them back for more.

    3. Give someone a reason to feel good! It was Benjamin Franklin who said "If you want to make a friend, ask a favor." Good team players actually LIKE to help others out. Whether you need a source of information, a second opinion, a pep talk, or some help getting something done but no resources to pay for it, there's probably someone who will take on that job and be happy to share with you what they've found. But not until you ask! Just be sure to let them know how valuable their input is and be very clear in letting them know that when they need your help for something, you will give it gladly. You'll end up just a little bit closer to someone who now feels they have a stake in your success. Remember, people who are good at finding things you need are also good at finding people who need exactly what you are selling.
So how's business? How's your team? Are you working with them...or without them?

Written by Dr. Janice Presser, Gabriel Institute
Follow Dr. Janice via Twitter!!, blogs on Wordpress at 'Ask Dr. Janice', 'CEO2CEO', and 'Tools4Careers' and networks on LinkedIn.

Colleen Gildea

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