Jul 112012
 
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Listening to your customers is a business truism, it’s so obvious that it really shouldn’t have to be said. Unfortunately all of us have to be reminded of this sometimes.

The amazing thing is today’s business has the tools not just to listen to our customers, but also to react quickly.

At Microsoft’s Asia Pacific Entrepreneur summit this week, we had the opportunity to hear from some of leading voices of the Australian startup and investment community.

One of the things that really leapt out from the array of founders, investors and entrepreneurs is how successful businesses thrive from listening to their customers.

Michelle Deaker spoke of her experience in founding giftcards.com in 1997. At that time there was no experience in running an online gift card business and the only way to figure out what worked was to listen to customers. Eventually Michelle sold out of the business and today talks from the investment side of building enterprises as the CEO of OneVentures.

Viocorp founder Ian Gardiner described how their video streaming business not only has to adapt to customers’ needs but also to a market that has dramatically changed over the last decade.

Moving quickly to respond to those market changes is something Sebastien Eskersley-Maslin of Blue Chilli touched upon in his presentation where startups in their Venture Technology program are encouraged to get a built product out of the door in three months.

“You can’t build quickly enough” says Sebastien.

Sebastian also has a three customer view – there’s the customer that you build the product for, the bulk customer such as a corporation and the “strategic customer” who is the potential buyer for your business.

Considering the business buyer as being the ultimate customer fits into the Silicon Valley model of “flipping” business which isn’t applicable for many ventures although it illustrates that we need to consider customers through the prism of our own business objectives.

That we often don’t listen to customers is unforgivable in an always on, connected world. We have the communications tools like social media and the business intelligence tools to monitor visits to our websites and sales through our stores.

In a world where we’re lionizing technology startups on the basis of the number of users – note “users” are not the same as “customers” – or the amount of money a large corporate will pay for a small development team, it’s important we don’t lose touch with the basis of all businesses.

Ultimately it’s the customers who matter – if we don’t solve a problem, fill a need or provide value then our businesses are ultimately worthless.

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