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How To Build A Customer-Focused Culture On Day One: Kristine Steuart in Forbes

This article was originally published on and The Globe & Mail.

I contributed this article to Forbes as part of my participation in YEC Women, an organization that mentors young, promising female entrepreneurs.

When my sister Katherine and I launched our software company Allocadia in 2010, we had a clear vision of what marketers needed help with: tracking their spending and results, and demonstrating ROI to the C-suite. Because we were bootstrapping our company’s launch, we focused on our customers from the very beginning. We were driven every day by the pressure to get customers on board, figure out what they needed to be happy, and learn from their feedback.

Many technology company founders are more comfortable working on their products than selling to customers. But your product doesn’t talk back or give you direction on what you should be doing differently. Customers do. And that’s why Katherine and I pushed ourselves to get comfortable talking (and selling!) to customers from day one.

Fast-forward five years: Allocadia has grown a lot and now serves enterprise customers around the globe. We’ve been very careful to keep our eyes and ears on those customers — after all, they’ve truly helped build this business. They’ve enabled us to grow into what we are now. Even as we’ve expanded our team, we’ve used some deliberate strategies to keep our culture customer-focused. Below are five of them.

1. Don’t stray from your core mission. From the beginning, our mission was to help marketers become more revenue-driven. Hundreds of customers later, that mission is exactly the same. We knew who we wanted to target (CMOs) and the problems we wanted to help them solve (analyzing marketing performance). Because we’ve kept a laser focus on those goals, and listened to our customers along the way, our product has evolved to become even more in tune with what our target audience needs. As a business leader, it’s easy to get into trouble when you change direction, start selling to different audiences and lose sight of your core vision. Collecting valuable feedback gets harder, and it takes longer to learn the important lessons you need to improve your offerings. I firmly believe that our singular focus is what’s made Allocadia successful.

2. Build your product based on customer feedback. All of our product features are built with our customers in mind. Every time we develop a new feature or make a change, we solicit multiple customers to help us understand the best possible use case for their businesses. These conversations enable us to learn together and work alongside our customers to build a great product.It takes commitment to build a product that is based on customer engagement, involvement and interaction, but it’s worth the effort. If you don’t have this kind of visibility and interaction with customers, you may find yourself left with a product that fails to address the business needs of your target buyers.

3. Everyone in the company, from senior leaders to developers, should talk to customers. When you’re working online all the time, it can be easy to lose touch with the human stories behind the product. Everything we do is online or on the phone. Our customers are around the world, and it can be tough to connect a face to an email address and make a personal connection. And some employees don’t have a direct customer-facing role, so they rarely have a chance to hear feedback directly from customers. So, we’ve taken steps to overcome these challenges and keep every Allocadia employee in touch with customers regularly.Once a quarter, we have a customer visit. One of our customers comes to our Vancouver office and all of our employees attend a “fireside chat,” where they can ask questions, hear about the customer’s experience as an Allocadia user, learn what’s working and what’s not, and get ideas about how we can improve. We encourage customers to share stories about how they use Allocadia to make an impact on their own businesses so that our employees can understand the impact of their work.We also make sure our senior leaders stay plugged in to our customers. We’ve created an executive sponsor program to pair every customer with one of our executives, so our leadership team shares the responsibility of driving win-win partnerships with our customers.

4. Design your office space with customers in mind. When we designed our new office space in downtown Vancouver, we wanted to send a clear message to employees every day that our customers are our priority. Our office features a wall full of customer logos that everyone walks by when they come in. We have screens around the office that display customer images and quotes. And, our custom mural wall reminds us of our core vision: helping marketing organizations transform and become more revenue-driven.

5. Include customer stories in every team meeting. On Friday, we have team meetings. Every week, we put a customer story front and center on the agenda. Our sales team might share what they learned from customers at a trade show that week, or our product team might report on new feedback they’re hearing. We share every customer story we can find to drive home the reminder that customers are our number one priority.

From my perspective, you can never focus enough on your customers. The work to keep improving and responding to customer feedback never stops. As work becomes easier to do online, without making a face-to-face connection, it can be easy to forget that your customers are people. For that reason, collecting customers’ stories is more important than ever.

As CEO of Allocadia, I’ve had to learn to lead in a rapidly growing, fast-moving market. And as marketers building Allocadia, we have learned a lot about selling to CMOs: their needs and challenges, and the exciting opportunities that lie ahead in this new Marketing 2.0 world. This Leading in Change: CEO Blog Series is intended to help inspire CMOs and marketing operations to lead and build data-driven marketing organizations.