Are Your Customers on Your Team?


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For the start up, every person and every advisor you need to hire represents a critical commitment of your company’s available time and cash. In essence, you trade those resources for the knowledge and skill (intellectual assets), contacts (social capital), and the pure energy, ideas, and actions you expect that person to bring to your budding organization.

But what if you could get some of same resources without having to give up any of your precious start-up funds?

You can – if you put your customers – and those who you’d like to have as customers – on your team! Here are three ways to start:

1. Stop thinking of customers as ‘them’. Customers are stakeholders who can help you move and shape your vision. Try posing a provocative question that will trigger thoughtful responses. For instance, my company created a completely new way to predict how people perform in teams, but we were struggling to find a way to properly present it. So I started asking, ‘Why do people say they want team players, and then hire people who aren’t?’ Instant reaction! We not only got some great feedback, but some of our customers even went out and recruited other customers for us! And it led to our rebranding to Teamability™!

When a company is in the early stages of development, input from vision-oriented people can be especially valuable, and ‘Vision’ people are intrigued by big-picture questions. They’ll probably give you good advice, so make sure you let them know how you’ve used it.

2. Add some customers to the marketing R&D team. Find a low-risk way, if you can, to get them engaged in using your product in a way that will deliver real business value. If you know they have a problem that your product can solve, let them apply your solution (at least once) at no charge. We learned pretty quickly that if we gave people enough product to use for one solution, they would experience the value of a pre-hire positive I.D. on real team-players, and it would bring them back for more.

3. Give someone a reason to feel good! It was Benjamin Franklin who said “If you want to make a friend, ask a favor.” Good team players actually LIKE to help others out. Whether you need a source of information, a second opinion, a pep talk, or some help getting something done but no resources to pay for it, there’s probably someone who will take on that job and be happy to share with you what they’ve found. But not until you ask! Just be sure to let them know how valuable their input is and be very clear in letting them know that when they need your help for something, you will give it gladly. You’ll end up just a little bit closer to someone who now feels they have a stake in your success. Remember, people who are good at finding things you need are also good at finding people who need exactly what you are selling.

So how’s business? How’s your team? Are you working with them…or without them?

Dr. Janice Presser
Dr. Janice Presser is a behavioral scientist, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, thought leader in talent science, author of six books on teams, and architect of Teamability® , the completely new 'technology of teaming'. Launched in 2012, the technology caps a quarter-century of behavioral science R&D, including nine years of software development. Engineered to identify and organize the foundational elements of team activity and team management, Teamability produces true analytics of team chemistry, and delives practical, repeatable business benefits.


  1. If given the opportunity, customers can provide much more value to an organization than just their purchases and potential downstream communication as advocates. Bringing them into the enterprise as active contributors is one hallmark of a customer-centric culture. As many successful companies have found, customers as collaborators can contribute ideas which help shape products, services, and processes.

  2. It is not only important but critical. The new tools allows for feedback and your customers are giving it to you whether you choose to hear it or not by how they find you, use your products, and interact with you. The companies who will win going forward are the ones who are “LISTENING”.

    Two ears – one mouth – need I say more. Very often your customers have a better idea of how to use your products/services and if you aren’t tuned in you may find yourself with clients who have left.

  3. My first reaction to the question “are your customers on your team” was a slight groan. So much mushy chatter about “partnering” with your customers turned me off.

    BUT…When you actually look at what Dr.J and others said, you begin to realize that including your customers into your world, not just as providers of revenue or referrals, but as members of a COMMUNITY of users, developers, marketers, business builders…maybe even friends, transforms the relationship from that of fickle transaction-based, to long-term symbiotic relationship that benefits all over the long term.

  4. Thank you for your comment, Michael. It applies even beyond customer inputs that shape products. As my ‘blog customer’ you have just given me the direction I needed to shape up my work on a white paper that had been languishing, for which I am grateful!

  5. Thanks, Rick, for reminding me of what my mother used to say when I opened my mouth before listening to her! What if we added to that equation, the potential for the real, measurable synergies that happen when you get an engaged user community talking with each other as well as you?

  6. At the risk of sounding even more mushy, Greg (and if the truth be told, I am anything but,) let’s consider what you’re talking about within the context of personal relationships. Speed Dating, as a lifestyle, might appeal to the fearful, but how much more satisfying is that long term committed relationship? Seems to me that customers are more forgiving of the occasional product or service problems when feel they are part of a user community that is listened to intently by the company, just like committed couples make it through the bumps in the road together better than the casual, semi-attached.

  7. Love the part about asking for a favor.. we all “want to be wanted”.. The problem can be that they don’t want to stop helping, but that is a nice problem to have.. matthew

  8. I wonder if anyone who has built a customer community has had the ‘problem’ of too many positive inputs. Seems to me that is where the right technology can help a company.

    I hope to have that ‘problem’ for TGI really soon!


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