Should the Founder & CEO regularly talk with customers?

I continue to be amazed by the talented Founding CEOs that support and nurture each others’ development and success as members of our “Trail Team 10” program. (www.trailteam10.com)

We recently had a robust discussion about one of our members’ wrestling with the decision to hire a VP of Marketing. She has several people on her marketing and sales team but no one really coordinating all their activities. This made our TT10 member uncertain about some of the sales and marketing data she received about customer retention for her SaaS company.

When the group asked her if she speaks with her customers on a regularly basis, the answer was “no, not really.” Admittedly, this was a bit surprising to me. I guess it’s just my personality to want to go to the primary source for quality information.

But, this generated a healthy conversation about this question: Should you take time out of your schedule to regularly speak with your customers?

My answer was: Yes.

Why?

  • As our CEO responsibilities increase, there is a tendency to become more removed from the mindset of our customers and this affects our abilities to align and focus our team.
  • As the Founder, you are likely the only one who can remember the original motivations of your early adopting buyers. You can probably hear and see any shift if you regularly speak with them.
  • Over time, organizations trend toward complexity. Your job as Founder & CEO is to reduce complexity and strive toward organizational simplicity. Talking with customers has a way of helping with this.
  • It helps to frame what you are hearing from your team.
  • Your own development as a leader of others is greatly informed by comparing what you hear from your customers in contrast to your perception of the development of your team.
  • There’s nothing like a robust conversation with a satisfied customer to strengthen your commitment to your mission when your own motivation wavers because of the weight and challenges of leadership responsibility.
  • You are certain to get a window into your company culture through the eyes of people who work outside your organization.
  • Sometimes you’ll only hear the truth from dissatisfied customers who relish the opportunity to bend the ear of the Founder & CEO.

There are other reasons, but I think the eight above make my point.

The issue is time, right?

The quantity of customers and the amount of time you spend with them does need to shift during the different life cycles of your business. If you have 50 employees and you are growing each month, talking with 30 customers each week may not be realistic.

So, what are some things you might consider when integrating “customer talks” into your schedule? Here are a few to think about:

  • How many customers during a given month does your team recommend you speak with?
  • Can this activity be timed with an organizational initiative?
  • Does batching these calls make sense?
  • Is there a specific demographic of customers that is important to speak with? (If you are having trouble converting one-time users of your SaaS platform into recurring customers, should you be speaking with these “one-timers” to uncover a special insight?)
  • How can you conduct these conversations so as to have minimal impact on your ability to lead effectively?
  • Can you use “conversations with the CEO” as some sort of a “perq” for a specific program?
  • Which customers should you speak with in contrast with those your team speaks with?

There are many others considerations. What works for you?

As you consider this idea, it may be helpful to think about this quote from Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie (Founder of TOMS Shoes)

“You don’t always need to talk with experts, sometimes the customer…is your best consultant.”

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Want more productivity?

Try some of these 63 productivity hacks from 50 Top Founding CEOs.
Download the PDF today!

You’ll also receive our ezine full of podcast updates and tips and tricks from Todd.