Updated for 2018: Applying the Gartner Hype Curve to Customer Acquisition
Signing on a new account is a complex journey. Similar to change management in many ways, there are a number of stages that both you and the client will go through, and each comes complete with their own rewards, benchmarks, and challenges.
Famously documented in the Gartner Hype Cycle that applies to the adoption of new technology, there are five distinct phases that could, just as easily, be applied to new customer relationships:
The Honeymoon Phase
The honeymoon phase is a typical phase of just about every relationship. As it pertains to new client acquisition, it could be compared to a kid getting a new toy at Christmas: anticipation is high, enthusiasm is peaking. With this kind of energy floating around, the onus is on you extend this feeling for as long as you can.
You have the ability to harness this energy and leverage it towards building a meaningful relationship, but you must act quickly. As the days and months pass, the level of enthusiasm will begin to fade, much like it does in a personal relationship. The better you have your first 12 months mapped out, the more effective you will be at maximizing the excitement and keeping the focus on positive action.
Early on in the honeymoon phase, it’s easy to hold a new client’s attention, but there are ways to stretch this. Actions you should take include:
Reinforce the goals that your relationship is based on
Map out exactly what it is that you are trying to accomplish and dive deeply into why they are important to your client. Have they worked with other vendors before you? Were there expectations that were not met? What did they learn? What is the current expectation?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you forge a road forward – hopefully, it will be one that manages to avoid any of the pitfalls and chicanes that impeded progress with their last vendor or their previous methodology. Let them know that together, you are going to carve out a new way, one that is uniquely tailored to their needs. Like a relationship, they need to know that you will be there for them and that they can trust you to deliver on a shared vision.
Work closely with them to craft a plan for how you will reach these goals together
It’s important to let your new client know that you won’t be working alone and that they will be involved in the process from day one. Of course, there will be some aspects of the work that don’t require their input but remember, you are building a foundation. Once that footing is established, you can both focus on what you do best.
Keep returning to the success story and continue to add value to the relationship
No matter how complex the task at hand, you need to keep bringing the conversation back to the successes that will ultimately drive it forward. Work on small, reachable goals to lay the groundwork for trust, and continue to build your shared vision.
A great many companies tend to think of success as strictly ROI-based, but there is a great deal of emotional value in these relationships, which is a value that is difficult to measure. When you are crafting your success story, focus on the reasons why they came to you. Make it about them as a person, not just a company, such as “NAME from COMPANY came to us with this PAIN that needed to be solved for these REASONS.”
Being able to articulate this story in this way will show new customers that a. they are not the only ones with this particular problem and that b. you see your clients as more than just a number.
The Reality Trough
As the relationship progresses, there are bound to be setbacks. It could be that the process is more difficult than the client originally thought, or it could be that they simply got busy doing other things. Conversely, they could be having problems with using your product or service that has slowed down their progress. Whatever the reason might be, it is not unusual for customers to experience a bit of a backslide during the onboarding process or even afterward.
If you have faded into the background in terms of your presence in their process, this may be a driving factor at this early stage. Your best course of action is to make yourself available to answer any questions your client might have and to walk them through to the other side of the problem. Show them that you are willing to help them back to comfort and that you are always there to help. Staff training and orientation help to illuminate potential issues before they become a bigger problem.
First Value Slope
The faster you can show results and achieve value for your new customer, the more valuable your ongoing connection is going to be. If you disappear into the reality trough for any length of time, be aware that you must emerge quickly to ensure continued success and buy-in. The only real way to achieve this value is to demonstrate it in practice. While results are often quantitative, they are also qualitative and financial.
Although we downplay the value of ROI, a better bottom line goes a long way towards reinforcing the value of what you bring to the table. This should be accomplished within the first three months at most, but shooting for one month is never a bad idea. The faster you are able to prove your worth, the more comfortable your new client will be in calling you a part of their winning team.
The Impact Plateau
A year or so into your relationship, you should be able to demonstrate just how much of an impact you have had on your client, their business, and their organization. They should be deeply satisfied with the work you have accomplished and will be ready to become an evangelist for your brand.
At this stage, it is a good idea to schedule an impact review. Sometimes known as an executive business review, it is a way to look back on where you started, what you were able to accomplish, and what value your efforts brought about. That value can be measured in many ways:
- Organizational improvement: how has the company been impacted by your input or solutions? What improvements have been made, and how have they contributed to the bigger picture.
- Team morale and motivation: how has your solution improved productivity inside and outside the team? what changes are most noticeable and measurable? How has it impacted the bottom line?
- Improved productivity: This should be measurable in a financial sense. What has the financial impact been as a result of your solution?
- Increased sales: how have your sales efforts changed and what has the result been?
- New efficiencies: with improved systems, new efficiencies drive cost savings and employee satisfaction. How well is your solution accomplishing these goals?
- Innovation: Creativity thrives when processes are easier and more intuitive. Outline the efforts that are breaking new ground and setting the stage for future success.
As part of the review, after establishing the progress you have made, you need to start looking at the future. Map out an actionable plan for the next year and talk about putting together an ROI case study.
Once you have fleshed out the details of your case study and articulated all the details that brought you to the point you are at, you can talk about referrals and ask for introductions to other companies who might be able to benefit from your solution in the same way this client has. Referrals, after all, are the ultimate compliment, and a way of saying “we chose well”.
So, next time you are having a conversation with one of your customers, whether they are new or old, think about where they fall on the customer adoption curve. Once you have an idea of where they fit in the process, you have the framework to act accordingly.