How to Create Genuine Interactions with Customers and Investors, from Business Strategy Expert Sumeet Shah

One of the biggest mistakes that first-time entrepreneurs make is not focusing enough on their interactions with customers. Revenue and profitability are important, but strong customer connections are what allow startups to thrive. And, of course, your interactions with investors are incredibly important, too. Labs mentor Sumeet Shah, founder of Deck Therapy, an online tool that helps entrepreneurs craft their pitches, held a session all about growing your startup through personal interaction with your customers and investors. Here are his top tips.

Tip #1: Create a “blast wave” to create your first customer base

When you’re first going to market, one of the best ways to create a loyal customer base is by marketing through “blast waves.” You start by introducing your product to a small community and gathering critical feedback that will help you develop the next iteration of your product. “You do this because you need to build a sense of loyalty and engagement across your community,” Shah says. In the long run, this first group of customers will end up being the most loyal.

As you continue to scale, your first wave of customers will help you grow by letting others know about your product. As these waves continue to expand over time, you’ll continue to grow a base of dedicated customers who are willing to help spread the word about your product. “Just make sure you never forget those original people as well,” Shah says.

Tip #2: Leave lasting impressions with your customers at crucial moments

What allows many startups to succeed is their ability to create connections with every customer and leave genuine, lasting impressions. Once a customer buys your product, you’ll likely only have two opportunities to leave your mark. “The first impression is right after that initial purchase. You need to make sure you're nurturing the customer, letting them know that you value them,” Shah says. Even the smallest interactions can make a difference: a follow-up email a few weeks after their purchase to see how they’re liking the product, a personalized thank you message after purchase—anything that lets the customer know you value them.

The second impression will likely come in response to positive or negative feedback. For example, if a customer purchases your product and it breaks, your response to their critiques will determine whether they remain a loyal customer or they start to look for alternatives to your product. ”Negative opinions can be one of your greatest assets. If someone has an issue and gives you critical feedback, you should take the time to work on and address the problem. When this happens you have a great opportunity to turn that person from someone who has just presented negative feedback to someone who is a real advocate for what you're working on,” Shah says.

But don’t wait to receive an email or phone call from a dissatisfied customer. Make a point to regularly look through Google reviews for your product or check social media for any comments that either praise or are critical of your product, and respond accordingly.

Tip #3: Interact with customers throughout their journey

Another path to creating customer interaction is through action and reaction. Whether you’re doing it through advertisements, social media comments or some other medium, your goal should be to get customers to act and react to your product. For example, if you notice on social media that a friend has recommended your product to someone, one way to react would be to send that prospective customer a coupon code through a direct message. “As the product then gets to the person's door, they would get a social media opportunity to share the product on the web, whether it's by tagging or hashtagging,” Shah says. “Then you go in reverse: that person posts an action with them using your product. You can then reach out and say ‘Hey, do you mind if we share or repost this on our social media channel?’”

When you do this, you create the perception that your startup is invested in personal interaction, which is exciting to customers, Shah says. “When you think from that level, you put a more human face on your startup. You have a big opportunity to connect with your customers and the communities around them.”

Tip #4: Make interactions with investors matter

Your focus shouldn’t only be on strong customer interactions. Your interactions with investors can make a big difference when you’re growing your company as well. For example, when you’re trying to raise funding, the investor who consistently asks you questions will always be better for the long-term growth of your startup than an investor who shows little interest but ends up funding you anyway. It’s possible that the latter is only interested in the popularity of your product, not you. “They may be trying to get in there in name only. Or maybe you're just there because you've got a little bit of a popular name and you're getting a lot of attention. Feel free to challenge them on that level as well. If they're not asking questions, there's something wrong,“ Shah says.

Outside of a pitch meeting, any conversations you have with investors should be framed through the lens of seeking feedback rather than an investment. “You should be turning any opportunity to connect with an investor into a conversation. Instead of conversation that starts like, ‘hey, here's my company. I'm looking to raise money. Can you help? Can you put money into it?’ go more for, ‘Hey, here's what I'm working on. I would love to get your feedback,’” Shah says. “The goal is to have as much of a conversation as you can. It’s important to make sure you are qualifying each other for this opportunity since it’s all about fit in the end.”

Read more about business development.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

Interested in connecting directly with this mentor? Ask your Labs Manager for help.

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