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The most important go to market strategy that most companies ignore.

There’s one way to create a strong competitive advantage that most companies ignore.

It’s not customer segmentation and it’s not a well thought out pricing strategy, although those are important.

It’s not company culture or service innovation, although those are also very important.

Want to know what it is?

I will tell you, but you have to promise me you are going to actually do something with it if I let you in on the secret.

Promise? Great!

The most important go-to-market strategy that most companies ignore is leveraging customer proximity.

What the heck is customer proximity?

Customer proximity is a company commitment to being highly connected to the customer and their experience. Both their experiences with your product and service, but more importantly, their experiences everyday as they go about their business when they are not dealing with your company.

Having an occasional focus group, hosting a customer appreciation event at your annual trade show or using Survey Monkey are attempts at creating customer intimacy, but they are not customer proximity.

Customer proximity should feel like your customers sit at the decision making table with you.

Customer proximity should feel like your customers are decision makers because of the impact they have on strategic decisions.

At Freshbooks, a Toronto based cloud accounting software company, every new employee (even C level hires) go through the same front line training as a new support person. Every new employee then spends four weeks answering support tickets and calls.

At Leed’s I set up a program in which every order over $5000 received a thank you call from a member of the executive team. The thank you was followed by three questions that drove customer proximity: What are we doing really well? What could we do better? What are you hearing about our competition?

At Uber, a company revolutionizing how people experience taxis, CEO Travis Kalanick recently spent an evening driving passengers. The CEO of a business doing over $1B in annual sales is out on the streets of San Francisco driving clients!

What if Greyhound Bus management had to travel by bus, instead of flying, when visiting regional branch managers?
What if United Airlines executives had to work at the airport, checking in customers twice a year?
What if UPS regional managers had to drive trucks and deliver packages once a month?
What if PF Changs’ HR staff from head office had to shadow servers four times a year?
What if American Eagle head office merchandisers didn’t just visit stores but worked in-store helping customers?
What if the TD Bank management team in charge of online banking products took customer service calls once a month?

What’s your ‘what if?’

Four ways to get to know your customers more intimately

1. Focus groups are not a one time event focused on YOU and your new product or service. Focus groups should be budgeted, should be quarterly and should be focused on learning about the customer. There should be questions like “how do you get A and B done?” not “do you like the colours of our new collection?”. Focus groups should be concentrated on learning about the customer’s routine and what causes them daily pain.

2. Every executive and member of the management team, at a minimum, should be visiting with customers quarterly. How can anyone make decisions on products and services without having extremely close customer proximity?

3. Establish a process that includes three to five touch points when your company screws up. A single touch point will not affirm you are sorry, you feel terrible and it will not happen again. But three to five touch points will. A phone call on day one, a letter in the mail on day five, a small gift on day 14, a check in phone call on day 21 and balloons on day 30. No matter how big your company, you can create a low cost, high impact way to say sorry and create an advocate out of the customer.

4. Determine what questions you want answered and call customers on a consistent basis. Ask them, “why do you use us?” the answers might surprise you. Ask “what should we stop doing?” and “what company wows you every time and why?”

How can you get more intimate with your customers?

How you can gain greater proximity to your customers?