Would your customers care if…. You’d cease to exist today?

Ton Dobbe
Ton Dobbe
May 2 · 6 min read

Just think about it. It’s a sincere question. One you might not like at all. However, it’s not about whether you like the question. It’s about what you want the answer to be.

We all want our customers to care. We go the extra mile to make that a reality — every single day. We want to be perceived as remarkable in what we do, and we want customers to be a testimony of that. With that everybody wins!

So why the question?

On my quest to find out what separates remarkable software companies from ‘the rest,’ this is a question that I believe we need to be asking.

A difference in perspective

Remarkable software companies create fans, not just customers, and it defines everything they do. I’ve realized, however, sometimes we have a very different internal perception on this topic than our customers. All the signs might tell us we’re doing fantastic, while our customers feel they are being kept ‘hostage’ and are simply waiting for the right moment to jump ship. I mean, let’s face it — Your software business might be very lucrative to you. You might make tons of money, you’re highly profitable, and on a steady growth trajectory every single year. All signals that should indicate you’re on the right track, correct?

Well, you’d be surprised how often customers would answer the question ‘Would you care if we’d cease to exist today?’ with a short and firm ‘no.’

So how come this is the case? Moreover, how can you notice it and do something about it?

Sometimes things change without even realizing it

Sometimes things grow in directions that shift the pendulum from one side to the other side. The focus shifts to ‘we’, rather the customer. The focus becomes short-term (i.e., profit), not long-term (i.e., value). I’ve seen plenty of examples where this has happened.

It occurs when companies change ownership structure — from private to publicly traded

It occurs when companies change leadership — when they grow from one stage to another

It occurs when companies change business model — the shift from License to Subscription is a clear example of that. Moreover, there are many more scenarios to think of.

There are plenty of reasons where the love and care for the customer get traded for a model that keeps them ‘hostage.’ Over the long run, this is not sustainable.

So, what can you do to do the reality check for your business? Here are some key questions that help you challenge your situation and reveal the truth:

Challenge 1: Ask ‘the’ question

Most businesses do their annual, bi-annual or even quarterly ‘Customer Satisfaction Survey.’ The mistake they make is the following — they ask dozens of carefully crafted questions. Fact is, most of these questions hide the truth. In reality, there are only two questions that matter:

1) Would you recommend the solution you use to your best friend?

2) Would you repurchase it if you’d be in the situation?

Nothing more, nothing less. Also, don’t get hung up on NPS index rates where people score you a 7 or something that range. A 7 is a polite answer for ‘you’re OK, but if I find something else, I’ll move.’

Challenge 2: What % of your customers references you…unasked

Related to the topic above, but this is even more powerful because even if you don’t do your annual survey, these customers spread the word for you. Do you know who they are? Do you know why they reference you unasked? Most importantly: Are you happy with the % you uncover? If not, this is an excellent starting point to change course. Customers that reference you unasked can help you find your spark. Make that your focus for specific initiatives to turn more customers into fans. Every fan counts.

Challenge 3: What % of your case studies …samples a shift in value

This is one that tells a lot about the quality of your relationship with your customer. I don’t want to open a can of worms of all the case studies that were don’t out of compliance because ‘it’s a clause in your contract.’ No, let’s take the general message from case studies with customers that participated out of free will. What I often see is that the bulk of these case studies are about the name recognition this customer brings, hardly ever about communicating how this customer received shifts in value from your solution. Quotes like ‘we’re now very efficient, we can make more informed decisions, it’s very user-friendly, or we’re pleased with the people that implemented the solution’ should ring some bells. Your customer is just polite, not a raving fan. If this is what you see, use it as a trigger to challenge the status quo and start working with your customers to get them from ‘efficient’ to ‘excellent.’ Start small; make progress.

Challenge 4: What % of your customers …embraced your latest new module

How eager are your customers to add the new capabilities to their contract….if they have to pay for it? They all happily use the new features that came free with the summer release of your SaaS solution. However, when it’s chargeable, how many will then call you and say, ‘what we are experiencing on a day to day bases continues to positively surprise us, so we expect this next thing to do the same — bring it on!”

If you are not happy with the numbers, use the signal to challenge your product strategy, and course correct it to ensure your next release surprises even your worst competitors.

Challenge 5: Your reviews on G2Crowd… worth a press release?

Are you getting enough reviews on platforms like G2Crowd — and what’s the sentiment? Let’s put it this way — are you proud enough with the results you’d be willing to send out a press-release to shout the results from the roof? Alternatively, would you dare publish them on your website? If you are, excellent, you’re on the right track! If not, it’s a sign you have work to do. We’re living in an experience economy, and these platforms are used more and more to drive the initial long- and short list. So, use this as an opportunity to get input from both your fans and your critics. Their insights are gold to have the ammunition to turn every customer into a fan.

Challenge 6: Are you confident enough…to let customers control their contract

This might be a strange question to ask, but it tells everything about your own belief in your strengths. Remarkable software companies use commercial models that enable the customer to be entirely in control. If they stop the contract, it’s a sign you’ve failed.

However, alternative models are often used to prevent this artificially.

Why do some vendors enforce minimum contract terms of 3+ years?

Why is only annual billing available, instead of monthly billing?

Why are there stringent contract clauses about what can or cannot be changed?

If we are confident we have the best solution in the market — why not let our customers be the judge of that? So, let’s ask the question: What do we need to do to be confident enough our customer will think twice to cancel their contract?

Because you’ve earned it

If you still have the mission on your website ‘We aim to be the leader in [xyz]’ — well, by fixing either of the challenges above you’ll get a lot closer to that ambition. Not because you want to be that leader, but because you’re doing the right things to turn your customers into fans. They’ll then spread the message for you — because you’ve earned it.

Remember: Remarkable software companies create fans, not just customers.

It’s a mindset, it’s a culture, and it defines everything they do.

Remarkable software businesses have customers that do care when they cease to exist: not just one, but the majority.

They don’t aim to be best for everyone, but instead, focus on the special one

They tell a story that their customers are sharing because it resonates

They focus, to be the best at what they promise

They do that by carefully selecting moments that matter

They don’t do half work; they do the hard work

They solve the valuable problem, not the interesting problem

They think in win-win-win scenarios

They create shifts in value

Good luck!

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Keep reading

  1. How to stay relevant in your category
  2. Do You Struggle To Stand Out With Your Software Company?
  3. What business are you in? No, what business are you really in?

About me

I am Ton, and I help business software CEOs innovate their go-to-market approach to be remarkable (again) in their category. I have over 27 experience in strategic product marketing, product strategy and evangelism in the international enterprise business software space. For more info, visit http://valueinspiration.com

Ton Dobbe

Written by

Ton Dobbe

I help business software CEOs reimagine what can be, to deliver remarkable impact (again)