Imagine that you have created a new sport. It's a blend of croquet, sailing, and curling. You call it Muddle, and it is going to be huge! Everyone loves the idea! You’ve recruited players, and today is the big day. Everyone is watching on TV, and the hype and buzz are fantastic! There’s just one problem, one gigantic problem: none of the players know the rules or even the objective of the game. How do you win? How do you know what you can and can’t do? How do you work together as a team? Wait, is this even a team sport? Good luck bringing home the trophy.
If the other team has terrible players but at least knows the game's objective, they will wipe the floor with your talented team. They may have inferior players and even worse equipment, but if they are aligned on the purpose and rules of engagement, that overcomes a lot of disadvantages.
Lack of alignment is the most common operational problem among small companies, affecting every aspect of the business. When you serve any and all customers and any and all of the needs they have, it instantly becomes a free-for-all, and you end up in constant reaction mode. And when there is no alignment around your company’s promise to your customers, no one knows what to do beyond “just do your best.” They don’t see how things link together. They don’t see how they contribute to the bigger whole. They may hear some pie-in-the-sky “corporate goal,” but they do not see their goal. And the company fails to win.
Alignment is where everyone knows the goal, knows their relationship to that goal, and is in it to win it. As the leader of the business, you are defining the game. It’s time to play some Muddle the right way–with everyone aligned.
The wrong way to start
When starting your business, you probably think that almost everyone is a potential customer. You must consistently deliver your products and services for any business to run efficiently. You need a predictable process that yields a predictable output; to do that, you must reduce variability. Your predictability grows exponentially when you do fewer things for the narrowest expectations.
Think about the fast-food industry. Have you ever noticed that many of their menu items are just different combinations (or eliminations) of the same ingredients? At burger joints, you get a bun, a beef patty or two, lettuce, pickles, onions, mayo, ketchup, mustard, and a pile of fries.
What if you decided to focus on multiple types of customers? Would you be able to connect with all of them similarly? Would they respond to your choices the same way? Would they have identical expectations of you? Would they all need the same education and support? It’s a big “No” across the board.
If you offer five different products to three customers, each requiring their unique twist, you now have to produce fifteen unique and different products. That is fifteen potential problems if you don’t get them exactly right. What if you offered hundreds of different products and services to hundreds of customers, catering to each of their specific needs? Is that even possible? If it is, think of all the potential problems you would have to figure out and overcome to satisfy each customer.
An excellent external indicator of a company’s stability is: Are they proactive or reactive? To become proactive, you begin by narrowing the type of customers you serve. Let’s say that you offer only three products to one kind of customer with very similar needs. Now you only need to get three things perfectly right. It is far easier to get three things right than fifteen, and it is easier to fix three problems than fifteen when they arise.
Doing fewer things for fewer customers means you can get really, really good at what you do. You become a specialist. And with fewer variations, you need fewer resources to get good results. Simply put, do less and achieve more.
As you get more resources (time and money), you can add more, but this must be planned, intentional, and constantly monitored; otherwise, you’ll end up right back where you started–stressed and overwhelmed, with no time to fix anything.
So the big question is, what is the first step in aligning everyone? It all starts with your top customers. Your top customers are those who express their appreciation for you by giving you pieces of paper with presidents' faces on them; more commonly, they are digital now. Your top customers are those who pay you. Have you ever heard the expression “Actions speak louder than words”? That is why we need to know who your top customers are so that we can find and attract more of them so you have more paying customers (and more money), leading you to find and serve even more top customers.
Finding your top customers
The activity I will ask you to do assumes that you track your customers’ purchases individually and have their contact information. If you do not have this information, you must change this immediately if you want to grow and scale your business beyond you.
First, sort your customer list by who has spent the most with you over the last twelve months. This is an essential first step because it tells you who appreciates you the most, especially if they are repeat customers.
Next, imagine that one by one, each customer on your list calls you. On your caller ID, you recognize them. Do you happily answer their call? Or do you roll your eyes and grudgingly answer or ignore it altogether? This is the crush or cringe factor. You need to rate each customer on a scale of one to five. One means they make you cringe, and five means you have a crush on them. Write down your rating for each customer.
Next, you will document the various communities they are a part of. This is things like geography, vocation, stage of life, etc. Write this down next to each customer.
Finally, determine where they congregate. These are places where they hang out as organized groups like guilds or clubs, podcasts, magazines, conferences, social media groups, etc. Again, write as many down for each customer as possible.
Now you get to review your findings. Put a little more emphasis on your crush-customers. But also dig in and see if you can determine exactly what makes you cringe about those customers.
Evaluate the congregation points. Hopefully, you can identify some common congregation points among your top customers. If you can't identify any common congregation points, or if they are few or scattered, then you are in for a long slog. It is hard to be discovered when the community can't even find itself.
If this is the case for you, the next step is to ask your top five customers where they hang out with other like-minded people. Maybe you will discover some underground club. If not, then turn to the internet and do a little research on your general customer. You should have enough information to search for your customers' congregation points, like guilds.
This exercise helps you clarify which customer you want to clone and which you want to send packing.
A word of caution here: your interest in the community and the fact that they have congregation points is the most important thing, even more important than how much you love your customers. Your favorite customer may not represent a group they belong to, and vice versa, a cringe-customer does not represent their entire group either. This exercise is a shortcut to the industry and, hopefully, other great customers.
Now, you should align your marketing efforts to speak specifically to that customer's problems. If you want big success, you need to focus on a small community and then empower that community to carry you to bigger markets.
After you have done so, please email me how you are aligning your marketing to attract clones of your top customer. email@example.com