When conducting entrepreneurship workshops or teaching small business management courses, I confidently proclaim that the most important element of a new business is one customer. A customer is more important than a business plan, clever marketing, a great product, or even capital. The first customer is most important because the business can potentially access these other priorities once they have one customer. Honestly, clever marketing or seed funding does not necessarily result in a first customer.
But, what about the business that has a few cycles of experience. They have a customer. Maybe even a second one. Money is moving through the enterprise and half of the business plan is in the founder’s head. So, what is now the most important element? The new, most important element is one prospect!
Marketing, finance, operations, human resources undoubtedly become more important as the business matures. But until sufficient revenue results from sufficient product being shipped, or sufficient services being delivered, the flawless operating systems and superior strategies are simply a divergence from the business’ primary objective – to earn profits. So, in the spirit of creating more profits and additional customers, let’s focus on one prospect!
The business leader must know that prospect well. This does not mean simply remembering the prospect’s name. The point is to know the prospect’s character in excruciating detail. The entrepreneur needs to see the prospect’s face, hear the prospect’s voice, sense the prospect’s inner thoughts. Is the prospect an old woman? Is the prospect a young physician’s office? Does the prospect march to vendor meetings in packs? Is the prospect an executive with an entourage? Is the prospect a faceless conglomerate with interchangeable suits deciding whether to buy?
Effective selling requires knowing these answers. Then, the business can identify the tools and systems to create a connection with the prospect. Because the ideal prospect has a specific character, the business needs to connect with that character. Once you find one then you can easily find others just like them! Then, offer solutions that are likely to be well-received. Imagine the clever firm of marketing creatives with sensational design concepts, they need a prospect that wants bold images and outlandish communications. They must shun the simple order for new business cards. The prospects’ desires have to be distinct enough so that when the business sees them, it instantly recognizes them. Then, it vigorously serves the new client.
Once the prospect is securely sold, pay attention to new needs and desires that evolve. Likewise, the business’ offerings will change with new opportunities and requests. The business continues to identify new prospects with the same character that meets the business’ evolving ability to serve. Best of all, these prospects will turn into customers who transform and mature. Then, they ask the business to follow suit.
So, how does a young business grow? Like eating the proverbial elephant, the successful business grows one prospect at a time. Nevertheless, each incremental prospect clearly identifies additional profiles representing interest in the product or service. Now, the business can extend its service capability to meet the desires of a growing customer base. The result is stronger growth by satisfying common character traits. Best of all the prospects’ common character traits continue to appear in more forms yielding additional customers and profits.
By Glenn W Hunter
Principal of Hunter & Beyond