15 Ways to Keep Customer Conversations Productive

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What’s one technique to keep conversations with your customers productive and positive?


1. Be an active listener.

It’s not just important to effectively listen to your customers. You should strive to demonstrate to them that you have heard what they are trying to say. By often repeating a section of their comment or question back to them, you clearly demonstrate that you are following their thought process and not simply waiting to interject your own.

– Nicole MunozStart Ranking Now 


2. Share good news.

We are highly consultative, so results are not achieved overnight. I’m a firm believer in telling my clients what they need to hear versus what they want to hear. I also understand that they are paying me for a service, so it’s important to share good news with them anytime it’s available, no matter how small it is.

– Duran InciOptimum7 


3. Put your customers’ needs first.

Many businesses want to sell the customer a product or service at any cost, whether it’s in their best interest or not. Putting your customers’ needs first means only selling them something that they’ll really benefit from. In the long run, this keeps your customers happy and improves your reputation. You don’t have to make everyone your customer. Focus on those you can really help.

– Kalin KassabovProTexting 


4. Remember that the customer is always right.

It can be trying at times to maintain a positive attitude when speaking with difficult customers, but remember that just as you are a pro in your field, they are a pro at what they do as well. At the end of the day, the customer is always right and you’re there to make their lives easier with your product or service.

– Stanley MeytinTrue Film Production 


5. Empathize and then move forward.

Customers are people and have bad days just like the rest of us. Listen to their feedback, let them finish, then empathize and move the conversation in a more positive direction, focusing on where you can help fix their problem or how you can use their feedback to improve your products or services.

– Alisha Navarro2 Hounds Design 


6. Imagine you’re speaking to a friend.

A strategy we use at our company when we are faced with difficult interactions with customers is to imagine that we are speaking to a friend. We treat friends with respect and value what we will get out of them long-term. This behavior sets you up for positive and productive interactions with your customers. This way you will have a guiding behavior that can be extended through your organization.

– Diego OrjuelaCables & Sensors 


7. Prepare alternatives.

Be extremely detail-oriented, empathetic and understanding. Try to see things from the client’s perspective, but also envision all possible outcomes of every situation ahead of time. If for any reason you have to deliver bad news, be sure to have other comparable options and solutions ready to present at the same time, rather than just saying you can’t deliver on a certain request.

– Justin LefkovitchMirrored Media 


8. Don’t make them feel like a number.

A good company actually helps their customers and doesn’t just look at people as financial opportunities. Using words like “product,” “transaction” and “value” will make a person feel like just a line on a profit and loss sheet. Remember that you should be offering a helpful, worthwhile service in exchange for their money and time, and your tone and vocabulary should reflect that.

– Roger LeeCaptain401 


9. Talk about mutual benefits and achievements.

Focus the conversations on the mutual benefits and achievements to date. Also emphasize your interest in always seeking improvements, which is a good way to introduce the idea of “what can I do better” into the conversation without turning it into a negative.

– Murray NewlandsSighted 


10. Focus on their long-term goals.

To provide the best service to customers, your service needs to fit their long-term needs and not just the immediate ones they hired you for. They won’t always share this information when hiring your business, especially if it’s intended to be a short relationship. Figuring out their goals and talking honestly to them about how you could improve on them can build a basis for a long relationship.

– Matt DoyleExcel Builders 


11. Build a personal relationship.

Get to know your customers on a personal level. Building a real relationship is the best deterrent to customer issues and negativity. If customers feel as though they can reach you when needed to have a candid and honest conversation, they’re much less likely to get to the point where they’re truly unhappy.

– Kyle GoguenPawstruck 


12. Understand their intentions.

It’s important to know the difference between someone bringing up a legitimate concern and someone who is trying to stir up trouble. If your customer has good intentions, a productive and positive conversation should naturally flow. If someone is simply making comments just for the sake of it, chances of having a productive conversation are slim to none, so steer clear.

– Dave NevogtHubstaff.com 


13. Finish the conversation with a list of action items.

Finish the conversation with quick bullet points summarizing everything you discussed and all the action items moving forward. This will keep you focused during the conversation and convey to the customer that you heard everything they had to say and have a clear plan on what to do next.

– Patrick BarnhillSpecialist ID, Inc. 


14. Ask about the future.

In the future, all things are possible. That’s not literally true, but I’ve found the best customer conversations focus on the future. Speak in the future tense about what you will do, how you will help, how your products provide value. Ask questions about what they want for the future and their goals. Don’t talk about what you have done or are doing. Talk about what you can do.

– Vik PatelFuture Hosting 


15. Choose to be helpful over being right.

Do you care more about being right? Or would you rather concede and keep your customer? There’s little you can gain by pointing out that a customer is wrong. When confronted with an argument, choose to feed your business and not your ego.

– Sam SaxtonParagon Stairs 

A Sit Down With Indy’s Favorite Person: Lesson.ly to Pitch at Innovation Showcase

Max Yoder Lessonly

So, immediately upon moving to Indianapolis, I started hearing about Max Yoder.

Max is the only person I’ve met in this city that literally everyone loves. I’ve actually spoken to a few Congressmen who are in the process of getting the city’s slogan changed to “Indianapolis: We All Wish We Were Best Friends With Max Yoder.” (Not joking, I actually had two different people say that to me yesterday completely unprompted.)

Lovability aside, though, Max has been aggressively climbing the ranks as one of Indy’s coolest entrepreneurs in the tech space. His Lesson.ly software is starting to find its niche and I’ve seen first-hand how powerful this tool can be.

We’ve talked a lot about the capabilities of Lesson.ly, and we’re not stopping now. As a matter of fact, Max and the Lesson.ly crew is one of the three companies selected to pitch at this year’s Pitch Night at the Track, an Innovation Showcase preview. I recently sat down with Max to chat more about the evolution they’ve seen over the past year.

We talked for way too long for this post, and I may find an excuse to release the whole discussion soon, but I figured I should pull out some key takeaway for my Verge brethren.

Awesome Growth Brings an Awesome Team

One of the reasons Lesson.ly has garnered so much attention this year is the fact that they are seeing fantastic growth. They have added three employees in the past year and they are expanding at the rate of a new client per week with revenue growing 35% per month. Most of this can be attributed to Max getting an awesome team put in place.

This part of the conversation stood out to me because of the gravity of this realization to Lesson.ly’s evolution. Max’s ability to “Do every job” and find out what he needs to be looking for in other people is what has allowed him to put an all-star team in place (we talked a lot more about his new Directors of Sales, Marketing, and Client Experience, which we will release later.)

There’s a level of humility and insightfulness there that has led to Lesson.ly executing at an extremely high level. I recently wrote a review of the software and tried as hard as I could to find issues. The closest I came was “I would really like to add H1 or H2 formatting.” I think this can be directly attributed to building a team where everyone is playing “in-position,” and that can only work when you have a coach that knows how to play every position.

A great question came up during our conversation about Lesson.ly’s biggest struggle, however…

What The Hell Do You Do When Your Target Market is the Wrong Market?

Speaking of humility, how humbling is it to send out dozens, if not hundreds of proposals just to have them completely ignored? That’s a lesson that Max learned in Lesson.ly’s early stages.

He was targeting the wrong market, and he was targeting it aggressively. It made perfect sense to him, just like it would’ve made perfect sense to any of us, but he was wrong.

This is where a bad entrepreneur gets hard headed. “No, I know this will work for this market! I just need to try harder!”

Max didn’t commit his ego to a particular industry or prospect size. He just kept his eyes open, and instead of working with GE, he was working with Marilyn Monroe Spas. This was a much smaller contract than he imagined, but it was a much better fit for his software, and THAT’S what’s important. 

Through this experience, Max was able to learn how to ask the right questions to find the right customers, leading to Lesson.ly’s fast growth. We’re extremely excited to have Max pitching tomorrow at the track along with DCODIA and Mimir, winner of the 2014 Boiler Startup Accelerator. Keep an eye on the blog, we’ll be sharing a lot more info about these pitches and more about the Innovation Showcase!

If you haven’t signed up your startup for the Innovation Showcase, DO IT NOW! It’s completely free and could result in over $100k in funding!

Why Worry About Customer Engagement Today? How Delaying CE Could Stunt Your Growth

customer engagement startup growth

Customer Engagement. We keep talking about it, but why should startups listen? If I were operating a global brand, it would make sense, but I’m CEO, CTO, CIO, and CFO. I don’t really have time to be Chief Engagement Officer, too. Without effective customer engagement, however, you could be stunting your startup’s growth, and there’s no better time to start than today.

It’s one thing to engage your customers, but it’s another to do so effectively. We understand a startup’s time and resources are precious, which is why, if you’re going to set up a plan to effectively engage your customers, you’re going to need to do it by putting efficient processes in place.

Building a startup can be an exciting adventure – you’re at the beginning of building something truly great and unique. Unfortunately the reality of such a situation is that there’s lots to do and not enough resources; forcing founders to spread themselves thin. Chaos naturally becomes the reoccurring environment that is all too familiar to startups. Now with customer experience becoming the #1 brand differentiator by 2020 and avenues/touchpoints in which customers can interact with brands only continues to multiply – it’s just going to get more chaotic.

Taming the Customer Engagement (CE) Chaos

Whether we like it or not, CE is going to drive customer experience (CX). And yes we understand you’re not at a point where you’re exactly worried about your CX because you’re working on acquiring customers. But what happens when you are hundreds of customers deep and these customers are trying to interact with you in ways you can’t handle because you weren’t proactive in setting up a process to automate your CE?  Guess what – not only will your CX suffer, but you’re going to wish you had set up a process…

As stated by the Startup Genome Report – the number one reason startups fail is “premature scaling” – the idea of startups expanding before they are ready. Please note, we’re not saying CX is your answer to everything here – many things need to consistently line up to succeed but taking care of your customers will never hurt, in fact it’ll give you a leg up in differentiating your brand.

Proactive Process with Present Day Value

This process may seem more proactive, but it’s a present in disguise – as it can start adding value to your startup today. Processes help:

  • Save you time and money, increasing efficiency so you and your team are able to get more done in less time.
  • Create consistency and provide that structure that most startups lack.
  • Free up time that startups already have less of and begin to tame some of that chaos that is naturally inherent within startups.

Initiating a process for CE is a great step in the right direction if you want to create a customer centric culture, and start on the path to joining the likes of companies such as Virgin and Nordstrom.

Did we Mention Processes Help Startups Scale…Faster?

Did you know – one of the main reasons Uber has had explosive growth is due in part to their Playbook – an extensive collection of strategies for overcoming obstacles they use from city to city. Specifically, they have processes they follow and automate while customizing them to the city they are in.

By building similar processes within your startup around Customer Engagement, you can scale your business more efficiently and effectively. Next week, I’m going to walk you through building an awesome Customer Engagement Strategy and give you 5 steps to building an effective CE process for your startup.

The Most Valuable Sales Lesson I Ever Learned, I Learned from Selling Vacuum Cleaners

I piled into the van with 6 middle-aged men. Most of them smoked half a pack of cigarettes by the time we arrived at our first sales call.

But these guys were professionals. I mean, they were good at what they did, which was to sell vacuum cleaners door to door.

Most Valuable Sales Lesson

And I was right there with them. A less-than-graceful transfer of universities and majors had put me in a cash crunch during the summer after my freshman year. This door-to-door sales was the first (and only) job I ever took by responding to an ad in the newspaper. But it was during that long summer that I learned my most valuable lesson in sales.

We were equipped with 50-pound machines that could clean, suck, blow, dust, and shampoo better than any other competing product on the market. But there were a few hurdles to selling this product.

For starters, most people aren’t in the market for a new vacuum cleaner. Most people with carpets already own a product that they’re happy with and believe their vacuum adequately does the job for which they purchased it. And this particular product that I sold didn’t advertise or market their brand online, in print, or even on TV. Oh, and one other major hurdle in each and every cold-call sale…

The vacuums were $2,000 each.

vacuum door to doorSo, how do you sell a product for which there is very little brand awareness and no perceived need?

How do you help someone understand that their existing solution, which is less than one tenth of the cost of your product, is inferior and not worth using for even one more day?

And how do you build enough of a relationship and urgency to educate and relate to a stranger enough to turn them into a life-long customer?

There are many complex ways I could answer those questions. And I could go into great detail about dozens of sales tactics or marketing strategies. But the best answer, in my opinion, simple: Build value.

Let me tell you what I mean.

The only way to ever guarantee that someone will happily buy your product is to demonstrate and sell the full value of that product or service. Only then can you sell your product at a price that is less than its perceived value, leaving your clients feeling great about the transaction.

This means that you have to show why your product or service is necessary and more valuable than their current solution. Demonstrate the value. Educate your prospects on the product, the technology, the industry and yes, even the competitors.

There are so many effective strategies and tactics that I’ve seen over the past decade as I’ve sold everything from software, enterprise cloud hosting infrastructures, digital media services, and even social media advertising. But, in the end, it all comes down to building value.

I want to share all of these sales and marketing lessons I’ve learned from screwing things up, learning what works, and scaling efficient systems. But, it’s hard to know where to start (that’s why I started this at the beginning).

What sales issues keep you up at night? What marketing ideas get you excited but leave you feeling overwhelmed?

This is the first in a series of weekly blog posts where I’ll dive into startup lessons learned around ramping revenue and building sales and marketing systems. And I’d love to include your idea in next Thursday’s post.

So, please drop a comment below or shoot me an e-mail!

How to Leverage the ‘New’ Buzzword Customer Experience to Build your Startup’s Customer Base

Customer ExperienceGot Customers? If you are looking to expand your startup or on your way to your first customer – listen up.  Tony Robbins put it best in his book Awaken the Giant Within

“Why wait to be memorable?”

True his book is more about purposeful living, although providing a great customer experience (CX) has a lot to do with purposeful communication, which is the heart of a startup. The key to making your startup memorable is to equip you with some customer centric approaches which will be provided later on, because we believe there’s absolutely no reason to wait to be memorable!

Enter CX: Getting Around the ‘New’ Buzzword

Although, CX may just be grabbing your attention it’s been around for a bit and only a few companies such as Amazon and Trader Joe’s can successfully attest to that. So what exactly is CX? It is defined as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company” via Forrester Research.

From a comprehensive perspective, it’s the sum of all touchpoints a customer experiences within the customer journey they take during their relationship with a company.  A touchpoint being a point of contact a company has with a customer. A customer journey being the path a customer takes from one touchpoint to another. And a relationship encompassing one or more phases of the customer life cycle – those simply being:

  1. Awareness: touchpoints to create awareness of your company
  2. Consideration: touchpoints to educate prospects on your company and its products
  3. Purchase: touchpoints to convert prospects into a paying customers
  4. Service: touchpoints to get customers onboard and provide ongoing service
  5. Loyalty: touchpoints to maintain relationship with customers

The above highlights the components that go into forming a CX, but the difference between a great and bad CX is dictated by the best practices that frame these experiences. Some of these include:

How convenient are your touchpoints?

Are you making it easy or hard for your customers to move forward in a relationship with you?

How concise are your touchpoints?

Are you communicating your product’s value in a quick and efficient manner or slow and inefficient manner? Note: Customers have little patience these days; meaning if you’re not purposefully communicating (communicating the value you can provide concisely) there’s a good chance you’re losing customers to a competitor that is able to do so.

How consistent are your touchpoints?

Can your customers expect consistent or inconsistent service throughout your touchpoints? Note: This is the most important practice, because you can have quality touchpoints, but if they’re inconsistent throughout a customer’s experience you’re losing overall credibility in your customers’ eyes.

To reiterate, the CX is made up of touchpoints that create a customer’s journey that in turn ultimately build a relationship with a company. A company’s CX best practices determine whether the CX will be a good or bad experience for the customer.

So…Why the Buzz?

CX Buzz

Let’s start by elaborating with some hard facts:

  • It is 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer. (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)
  • A customer is 4 times more likely to buy from a competitor if the problem is service related vs. price or product related. (Bain & Co.)
  • 89% of customers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. (Oracle/RightNow)
  • During a 5 year period on the S&P 500, a portfolio of CX Leaders outperformed the broader market by 3 times while a portfolio of CX Laggards produced cumulative returns of -33.9%. (Watermark Consulting – See Chart)

Statistics on Customer Exeperience

Sure these are some pretty stellar facts and we can keep going on, but facts won’t show you what a customer centric approach can do for you…just like rattling off the features of your product won’t show your customer the actual value of your product. Again, here is purposeful communication resurfacing…

So what can having a customer centric approach do for you? – See below for some benefits (Watermark Consulting):

  • Lower acquisition costs
  • Better customer retention
  • Greater wallet share

Not to mention, ultimately differentiate your brand in a way that’s uniquely yours. As a customer centric company you’ll have to work hard to create and sustain these benefits, but as you can see your efforts would be well rewarded.

Now How can a Customer Centric Approach help my Startup…TODAY?

Great question – you are simply asking how can you start being memorable to your customers now.  As a startup – we understand – you have to be resourceful, you have little patience for a large company style plan of action and most importantly you want to DO something now. We’ve got you covered – removing the formalities – CX is undeniably about initiating/strengthening customer relationships. This is what you need to do:

View touchpoints as the hidden opportunities they are

Whether that’s sending a customized email and invite to connect on LinkedIn within 24 hours of meeting a prospect at a networking event, or leveraging  your landing page in a more memorable way than your competitor – Overall, don’t take any touchpoint for granted!

Understand customers’ needs and wants

Listen to your customers/early adopters, after all isn’t that ‘problem’ you’re solving…for them?

Create purposeful communication
Whether that’s making sure you’re communicating value to your customer at your landing page, the call center, marketing materials or at a networking event – this is vital! You have this awesome product, but if you can’t translate that awesomeness to your customers – you’re as good as dead.  In a way you need to treat your customers as your students, and be able to educate them in ways you’re competitors have not and in ways your customer has not come across…yet. Bottom line – purposeful communication is not only the main component in providing a better CX, but it’s a startup’s lifeline – a lifeline that runs throughout every function of your startup just like the various touchpoints scattered amongst your startup.

To review: see every touchpoint as an opportunity to leverage a customer’s relationship, understand them and create purposeful communication based on their needs.

So whether you’re a startup in the first couple months or first couple years of operations, there’s no reason to wait to be memorable – the time is now – How do you plan to awaken the giant within your startup?

How to Take Your Software Business International: Interview with Michal Sadowski [video]

“I wish we had started in the U.S. two years ago,” Mike said. And now is clearly the right time to test his million-dollar software business in the Americas.

michal sadowski brand 24When Michal (Mike) Sadowski started his social monitoring platform Brand 24, he had every intention to launch simultaneously in the United States. His passion for the product and customer service redirected business momentum to focus on the few and delay his U.S. debut. But in reflecting on the pat few years, that may have been the best choice for this software business.

Brand 24 is already earning millions. To be fair, it’s earning millions—of rupees. And he’s nearly hit the million-dollar mark in U.S. dollars, with offices in Poland and Indonesia, and clients like IKEA, Intel, and Panasonic.

After talking for more than half an hour with Mike, it was clear that hustle has been a key ingredient in the growth of the business. But there were a few other recurring themes in our chat:

  • CEOs should always stay close to the customer
  • Monitor and manage cost per customer acquisition
  • Turn perceived weaknesses into advantages

Look for these lessons in the short interview video below. Then ask yourself the question:

brand 24 social monitoringWill the recipe that’s resonated in Europe and Asia see the same success in the Americas?

Only time will tell, but one thing is clear: Mike isn’t afraid to go up against any of the big players like Radian 6, Sysomos, or Social Mention. With a robust set of tools and years of development behind their product, Brand 24 has already amassed more than 1,000 U.S. beta users.

Sadowski had a twinkle in his eye when he said, “Going global is so much fun.”

I distilled the more than 30 minutes of conversation with Mike into the best bits. Watch the full interview below:

What challenges do you foresee for Michal Sadowski and Brand 24? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

Founder Stories: Lessons Learned from a Startup for Startups

He was knee deep in it. And it was from his unique vantage point, squarely in the middle of the action, that Nathan Beckord’s wheels started turning.

Beckord was an investment banker during the dot com boom, and through his consulting work with startups, he recognized the passion he had for guiding young companies to success by smoothing out their operations.

Nathan Beckord, FounderSuite

Today, Beckord is the Founder and CEO at FounderSuite, the San Francisco-based tech startup that builds software tools to help founders build tech startups. Yes, that’s right–FounderSuite is an exemplary Startup Inception.

While consulting, Beckord realized that scaling his efforts with software would help productize his work, and once Beckord connected with Indianapolis’s Gerry Hayes, they started building FounderSuite last September. After running Beta from March to June, the FounderSuite platform has been released to the wild and is gaining traction.

After hearing about FounderSuite from Gerry and the team at Slane Capital, I got a chance to chat with Nathan Beckord to learn more about the startup for startups.

Software as a Service, or Service as Software?

Turning a Consultant into a Web App

Beckord will tell you that FounderSuite needed to be born. If, for no other reason, than to make his life easier.

“Consulting was nice, and it was lucrative,” Beckord said. “If I can charge $5-10k for a retainer,’ I thought,  ‘Surely it would be easy to charge $15 a month for a product.’” But, it turns out, products present entirely new customer conversion challenges.FounderSuite

“Everyone thinks their startup is going to launch and hit the hockey stick right away. But I’ve worked with a lot of startups and that rarely happens. I knew that, but I still thought it would be easier.”

Lesson Learned: When you’re trying to productize a service, be patient.

“Getting adoption is two things: one part educating people about what you’re doing, and another part removing barriers to adoption.” Beckord has a strong background in consulting and investments, and working through the products has shown him different ways to problem solve. “People will say, ‘I love it, but it doesn’t have xyz,’ or ‘ I love it but I want to work with my co founders on it.’

Lesson Learned: Conversion is about lot more than landing page optimization.

Removing Barriers for Founders, and for Customers

FounderSuite launched with a handful of web apps, each designed to solve a specific founder-focused problem.

“I always get asked [as a consultant], ‘hey, I have an idea for a startup, here it is–what do you think?’ And I always want to know just a little bit more about it,” Beckord said, “What’s the market like, who are the customers, what’s the business model, that kind of thing. To give you a good answer about whether you should quit your job and jump into a startup full time, I need to be able to get some thoughtful feedback to you.

“Idea Validation is a way to sketch out a summary of your idea and push it out to your advisors for feedback. The original idea of that was actually from the advisor side–they realized that the system for feedback on ideas between advisors and founders was broken, so we built Idea Validation to solve that problem.”

In addition to tackling fundamental concepts like idea validation, Beckord is also interested in helping make order out of the startup choas that is fundraising.

Investor CRM

FounderSuite’s Investor CRM

“I’ve worked with startups raising before, and one thing I can say is that it always becomes very messy. You’re tracking what was said in what meeting when, follow on items, etc. in a big sprawling spreadsheet. Some people color code it, others tab things–everyone has their own method for dealing with the madness.”

“Investor CRM replaces that spreadsheet, and has plugins with Angel List to show where your connections might come in handy.”

Lesson Learned: Build your product the way your customers want it, not the way excel wants it.

“Half the time when I’m on the board of a startup,” said Beckord, “Unless the CEO is really proactive about asking for help, it’s hard for an investor to be really all that helpful. Progress Tracker is a tool to help keep investors better in the loop. That way, startups have a better chance to succeed because their investors are earning their equity.”

FounderSuite’s Founder’s Key Takeaways for Founders

Do customer research. Then do it some more.

You’ve heard it before: get feedback early and often. But why are so many founders afraid of doing just that?

“The initial products were itches we identified that we could scratch,” Beckord said. “…we spent this time in the first launch building all of these products. And for instance, progress tracker hasn’t really been adopted the way we expected it to be. So we’ve realized that maybe it wasn’t such an issue after all.”

“So now, after hiring someone to help with customer development work, we’re really excited about the feedback we’ve had from asking the question, ‘What do you want?’ If the first release was pushing tools out there, this one comes from pulling from the market.”

Read: 5 Must-Have Customer Feedback Systems for Your Startup

Just do it. All of it.

Be prepared to be Customer Service / Product Manager / Recruiter / Marketing / PR / Fundraiser / (all in the same day), said Beckord.

“If you let the marketing slip, the top of the funnel slows down. if you let your support emails age more than a day, you start to lose customers.”

Reality is Real (Not a Dream Inside a Dream)Startup Inception. (Photo Credit: wikipedia)

Beckord’s insight into startup sales cycles is something I’d bet almost all product companies have felt.

“You might think it’ll take a month to get a deal done, but so often it just takes four months or five months. You can’t always simply sell better–sometimes, that’s just a reality.”

What do you think?

Let Nathan Beckord and I know what you think of FounderSuite and our conversation in the comments!

Join Verge and more than 200 founders, investors, educators, and lifelong learners on December 11 at 6pm EST in downtown Indianapolis at The Conrad. Tickets available here

3 Can’t-Miss TED Talk Takeaways You Can Apply Today

Ted Talk TakeawaysAs I click my fourth YouTube link in the past hour, I realize I’m here again. With over 2,300 recorded videos of engaging performers, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of discovering new TED talk takeaways.

And if you haven’t caught the TED bug yet, you soon will.

The lessons to be learned at TED conferences extend far beyond technology education and design. They apply in the business and startup world as much as they do anywhere else. These three talks contain golden insights for startup founders and entrepreneurs from some of the most well regarded TED speakers…

TED Talk Takeaway #1: Take the Carrot off The Stick

Traditional business incentives can be bit like a carrot dangled from a stick. Daniel Pink illustrates that the incentive systems we tend to lean on in business aren’t always the best for solving complex problems. His TED talk is full of great ideas, but how can they be leveraged for startups?

Don’t let your functional tasks distract you from solving the bigger problem. When you deliver a solution for one customer, spend the time finding ways to create processes to automate that function so you can keep your eyes on the prize.

TED Talk Takeaway #2: Give Everything to Your First Followers

Startup founders tend to be thought of as the valiant hero, the mystical “idea guy” or “idea girl.” But as Derek Sivers points out, the first follower transforms the lone lunatic into a visionary. It’s the first follower that creates momentum and legitimizes the founder’s effort.

When you find your first follower, or first followers, and treat them like co-founders (because as Sivers says, they pretty much are) and listen with the right feedback systems.

TED Talk Takeaway #3: Create “Aha” Moments

Joshua Foer takes a complex concept–how to develop a world-class “perfect” memory–and simplifies it in a way the entire audience can understand. I love that he begins by not just asking for the audience’s attention, but demanding with an intriguing introduction. He creates a narrative arc based on showing his point (not telling the audience about it) that gets the everybody nodding along, as if they subconsciously agree with him.

Foer closes his talk by creating an “aha” moment, one that leaves a lasting impression about how memory works. It’s like Foer lets the audience in on a secret–and this privilege, this exclusivity, is a powerful selling effect. For another example of this, check out how Apollo Robbins lets the audience in on the way pick pockets leverage misdirection in his TED talk.

Structure pitches like stories. Think like Foer and Robbins. Show your audience what you mean. Instead of merely telling them about it, allow your words to carry some weight. Aim for the “aha” moment.

Make the Magic Happen

Verge founder and president, Matt Hunckler, was able to give a TED talk at TEDxIndianapolis in October and learn from the experience. Keep an eye out for the video later this month.

What are some of your favorite TED talk takeaways? Share your video links and takeaways in the comments below…

The Five Steps to Launching a Product In Less Than 3 Days

I don’t have enough capital. I don’t have that perfect idea yet. I don’t know enough about the market.

We’ve all heard excuses like these. But there’s one thing that truly holds us all back from launching our next big thing.

It holds us back because it’s the only resource we have that is not renewable. It’s the same for you as it is for me and for everybody else.

It’s time. And we all have 24 hours of it each day.

Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend looks to make the most of our days by creating an environment of action and by setting constraints on time—54 hours to be exact. Armed only with creativity and professional skills, participants at Startup Weekend are challenged to take their ideas from pitch to product in less than three days.

You’ll find these events all around the world but the most recent Startup Weekend was held up in the college community of Greater Lafayette, Indiana. As with all Startup Weekends, a panel of judges collaborated on the last day to pick a winning startup team. Last weekend’s start-up-a-thon spawned the event’s winning idea, Next Round—a novelty app for drink selection, toasts, and beer runs.

Team spokesperson, Andrew Gouty, gave us a glimpse of a successful Startup Weekend launch in this video interview:

1.) Nail the basics.

Pick a space that’s open for collaboration, maintains a comfortable climate, and pumps in blazing-fast Wi-Fi.  Lafayette chose a new co-working space called the Lafayettech HUB, and it was not only packed with start-uppers last weekend but was also filled with plenty of food and water—essential for keeping the work sessions going late into the evening.

2.) Define your problem.

Before you go building things, you have to know what you’re trying to solve. Next Round picked something they knew they would have fun developing and designing over the weekend. If you’re in need of inspiration, Startup Weekend provides interactive brainstorming games with random word pairings.  Just don’t forget to ask your potential audience if this is something they really want. In other words—get customer feedback and initial validation!

3.) Force yourself to refine.

Startup Weekend IdeasYou’re an entrepreneur. So, it’s your job to come up with all kinds of great ways to create value for your user and wow the customer. But it’s also your job to narrow down your ideas and pick the few that you’re confident will make the most impact. Remember that, in this exercise, you only have two and a half days to come up with a functioning product. It’s better to have 2 well-functioning features that your customers love than having 5 buggy features that prompt shoulder shrugs from your users.

4.) Create a cohesive team.

You can’t do it alone. So, seek out people with skillsets that are complementary to your own. Above all, make sure you have the bigger bases covered: graphic design, software development (front and back end), copywriting and marketing, and project management. Let people select their own roles because no one’s getting paid for this (at least not until you’ve all worked together to build something worth charging for). You’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so get this step right.

5.) Go all in.

Once you have your big pieces in place, lay out a basic plan. Then, slam your foot on the gas. You don’t have time to write a full-blown business plan, so just jot a few quick goals down—along with a couple of key benchmarks—and go! You can rip, pivot, and refine further on the original idea, but avoid calling a complete audible. Make something happen in the direction of your initial inertia. If you got steps 1 through 4 right, I think you’ll be pleased with the outcome.

In the end, we’ve all built things and hit goals on limited timelines. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.

So, I’m curious… what works best for you?

5 Must-Have Customer Feedback Systems for Your Startup

Customer Feedback Systems

Startup Customer Feedback Systems:

Mark Cuban says, “Don’t listen to your customers.”

I say that’s silly.

If you close yourself off from a stream of information, you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice. All people have blind spots, and customers are great at pointing them out.

But if you quickly acknowledge and repair your blind spots, then you not only make those customers happier, but you also increase the overall value of your business. Besides, it’s a part of customer development and it will make your product better in the long run.

Here are five customer feedback systems — and some suggested tools for setting up each — for your startup:

Analyze Your Website Metrics

StatRaptorLook at what your users do on your site. If you’re bootstrapping a startup, you can’t go wrong with Google Analytics. Go ahead and install Google Webmaster Tools while you’re at it (it’s free!).

These tools are pretty robust and sometimes it can be easy to get lost in the data, so grab this free Google Analytics Guide from Relevance. If you can’t make the time to set up GA and find the data you’re looking for, check out a simpler tool for SAAS analytics — StatRaptor. Presto!

Monitor Social Media

Hopefully, there’s a whole conversation going on about your brand online. So, you’d better be a part of it.

At Verge, we use SEOmoz Pro tools (referral link) to monitor social media. It’s $99/month, but you get a whole lot of other functionality with their suite of social and SEO tools. If you’re just looking for social media monitoring, Trackur has a great reputation and at just 18 bucks a month for their basic package, the price is right for startups.

Engage with Customer Support

If you have a SAAS product, you’d better have a good customer support. Using tools like ZenDesk can help you manage requests and improve response times. That means happier customers.

Then, you can use bug tracking software like PivotalTracker or Jira to plan out work and track progress on your bug fixes. Pretty sweet, huh?

Ask Your Community and Customers for Ideas

FormStackWant actionable feedback? Well, have you tried asking?

Sending out a simple survey gives your community and user base a voice. And it’s from that voice that you’ll find some of your most valuable nuggets of information. Use an online form builder like Formstack to create a short, engaging survey that encourages your community to share their ideas and feedback.

Set Up a “Suggestion Box”

Let your community know you care by giving them a place to drop you a line.

Of course, you can use tools like User Voice and Get Satisfaction to create really cool website widgets that prompt your user. But, if you’re still nimble enough to do it, sometimes it’s better to just remind your community that you’re always interested in hearing from them. That can be by phone or by email (mine is matt [at] vergeindy [dot] com, and I always love herding from you).

What are some ways that you listen to your community of users? Have you received any good ideas or insight as a result?