The Art of the Customer Visit: How to Plan One + Why You Should
When was the last time you visited a customer? Customer visits might seem extravagant and unnecessary on the surface.
Why not just get on a phone call or Zoom meeting? Or follow up with them via email? You could just send them a survey, or even dig into your product analytics to surface insights.
That said, if I’m talking to another entrepreneur and say something like, "It's super crucial you physically visit your customers", they all look at me as if I just said the most obvious thing in the universe.
And we’re not excluding ourselves here: We launched Close in January of 2013, but our first customer visit was more than a year later!
Some businesses put off visiting customers because it takes time, and it’s easy to push down on your long to-do list. Or, it may seem more urgent to focus on getting new customers to sign on, rather than visiting existing customers.
If this sounds like you, let’s discuss the benefits of visiting your customers, and how you can set up successful customer visits.
What Are the Benefits of Visiting Your Customers in Person?
It’s true: COVID has permanently altered the way B2B sales works. Studies by McKinsey show that companies have reduced their in-person efforts as a go-to-market strategy by more than 50 percent since the pandemic started.
That said, a decent number of B2B buyers still prefer in-person contact during the customer journey.
And this is exactly where the opportunity lies—fewer companies are vying for your customer’s attention in person. This opens the playing field for your company to perform more customer visits.
And trust me—it’s worth the effort. Here's a quick rundown of the value we got from our first customer visits.
Motivate Your Team to Serve Customers Better
Seeing real people use your product is incredibly inspiring. It energizes you. It recharges your batteries. It gives you a visceral sense of how your work actually impacts the life of your users, rather than just an intellectual understanding. It's like pouring gasoline on the fire that fuels your engine.
Everybody on your team—from the CEO to the intern—should visit a customer, for this reason alone.
It is different from hearing customers tell you how much they love your product or how great they think it is. You just have to experience customer satisfaction happening in real-time. You need to see real human beings depending on what you built. You need to witness how your product helps them to operate better, to be better at what they are doing.
The impact you make on other people's lives is a much stronger driver than any number on a spreadsheet can ever be. Do not underestimate how much this affects you. It's powerful.
Build Better Customer Relationships
Meeting someone in person adds another dimension to your relationship with your customer. You can do a lot of relationship-building via email, chat, phone, and Zoom, but nothing has the same effect as meeting someone in person. It creates a human bond between the two of you.
Jason Lemkin of SaaStr says he never lost a customer whom he had personally visited while he was CEO of EchoSign. Spending time with your customers transforms a transactional relationship into a partnership. It builds empathy on both sides, which ultimately leads to better business.
In-person customer visits are one of the best ways to build customer intimacy. It deepens the commitment on both sides. If one of the people we met needs help one day, we'll be more eager to support them. And I'm pretty sure they'll be more forgiving if there's ever an issue with Close and be more loyal to our product.
Get In-depth Product Feedback on the Customer Experience
Your customers are more than the sum of all their clicks on your product. Yes, you might be monitoring product usage and reading all the feedback people send you via email or even tell you on the phone, but you're missing a lot of crucial context if you can't see your customers using your product within their work environment.
- How exactly are they using your product?
- What's happening around them?
- What else is on their screen?
- What's competing for their attention?
- What's their workspace like?
When you visit your customers, you get to see the environment in which they use your software. You experience your product embedded into a user's workday and get a sense of the entire puzzle, rather than just a single piece of it.
And it's little things, like...
- What kind of headsets/chairs/desks are they using?
- What other software/apps are they using during their day?
- Which little hacks did they come up with to make them more productive and efficient?
- What makes them smile, and what makes them frown when interacting with your web or mobile app?
It just gives you a better picture of what's working and what's not.
Here’s a real example: during one customer visit, we saw that the customer was using a TV to display our reporting in Close. But at the time, our reporting page wasn’t optimized for full-screen display—it looked crappy.
I remembered that one of our engineers had worked on a quick fix that would make this look better, but we had never released it. I sent a message to the team, and within an hour, this feature was released by our VP of Engineering, Phil Freo. It looked fantastic, and our customers loved it.
While visiting customers, you can gather more in-depth feedback about how they’re using your product and where they would like to see improvements in the customer experience. Product managers can then use this information to build out improvements.
Find Opportunities to Upsell
Years ago, during one customer visit, we found the customer was on a basic plan that didn’t include a specific feature. Instead, they were using a third-party provider to get this feature for their sales team.
Talking with the founder, we faced some resistance to upgrading their plan. But we gained an internal champion during that customer visit by chatting with the sales team manager. We gave him everything he needed to make the transition happen, and they soon upgraded their plan to start using this feature again.
This is the power of in-person visits—not only did the extra revenue help us, but by upgrading their plan, the customer’s success with our product was significantly increased.
Create New Case Studies and Customer Stories
Using case studies and real-life examples of how your customers use your product is an excellent digital marketing strategy and one that will help build trust in your brand.
When planning customer visits, think about the customers you may want to interview for video testimonials or case studies on your website. Having these real customer stories also helps build better marketing alignment with your ideal customers and their needs.
All of these are examples of the kinds of benefits you can get from visiting your customers. You can't predict which benefits precisely you'll get—but you will always get value from a customer visit!
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How to Plan a Client Visit That Boosts Customer Loyalty in 7 Steps
By now, you should be sufficiently motivated to actually visit your customers. But what do you say and do? How do you get the most value out of these visits? How do you prepare for them? How do you wrap them up? How do you get started when you visit their office?
1. Identify Which Customers to Visit
Whether you have 10 customers or 10,000, it’s probably not feasible to visit everyone. So, which customers should you visit?
To start, make a list of the customers who already have a good rapport with you—your partners, advocates, and overall best customers.
Next, include customers who are using your product or purchasing from you on a regular basis. Learning about how they use your products and services, or why they keep coming back to you, will be great for your team.
Finally, make sure to include the customers who consistently give you critical feedback. These customers are already pushing your team to do better, and they will likely have super valuable insights to share with you when you visit in person.
2. Decide Who You’re Meeting With
Once you know which companies you’ll visit, decide which individuals inside the company you’ll need to meet with.
First of all, you set up a meeting with the founders or CEO. That's the person you'll be officially meeting. But it's not necessarily the person you'll spend most of the time with.
For SaaS companies, focus on the person managing the team that's using your product, as well as the end-users. If you’re a service-based business, talk to the people who are mainly affected by using your services.
3. Spend Time Getting to Know the Business Beforehand
Just like when prospecting, spend time doing research before the meeting—whether that’s on social media sites like LinkedIn, on the company’s website, or in B2B databases like Crunchbase.
When you walk into that client visit, you should know exactly who you’re talking to, what kind of business they are, which customers they serve, and how your product or service fits into that workflow.
4. Prepare and Share an Agenda
Having a clear agenda for your customer visit is essential to get the most out of the time you spend with your customers.
Start by setting out the agenda for your main meetings with the C-suite and with the managers of the teams that use your product. Set up talking points: such as updates to your product pricing, or upcoming feature launches in your product. Also, leave room in the agenda for their team to add any questions or comments. Leave a clear space for them to give you feedback.
Once your customer visit agenda is prepared, share it with their team. Let them have editing access so they can include their ideas. Make sure that expectations between you and your customer are aligned before you start asking them a lot of questions. Create a setting that encourages them to discuss and share their concerns openly.
Also, make sure to discuss confidentiality. If you plan to report back to your team after your customer visit, explicitly ask them if they're fine with you sharing their business processes, revenue numbers, etc, with your team. (If not, that's fine too—you can still share the learnings, without actual specifics, with your team.)
That way, both teams will be ready to get started when the day comes.
5. Learn About the Customer Experience in Real Time
So, the day of your customer visit has finally arrived! Start by talking in general, broad terms about their business and your business. Then, progress to more specific topics and product use cases.
Be both a student and a mentor. Learn as much as you can about your customers, and look for opportunities to help them. Learn about their workflows, and your product fits into those workflows.
Here are some questions you might ask during a client visit:
- How often do you use our product?
- Which team members use our product the most? How often do they use it?
- Are there secondary users that only use our product occasionally? If so, for what? How often?
- What are your business goals?
- How do you implement our product in your daily workflow?
- What bugs have you encountered?
- What features are you missing within our product?
- What do you like most about our product?
- What do you hate about our product? Which limitations do you find particularly frustrating?
- Which metrics does your team track within our product? (Or which KPIs does our product impact for your team?)
- If our product ceased to exist tomorrow, what alternatives would you consider to replace us?
- Are there any trends or changes in the industry that could affect the way you use our product in the future?
These questions and others like them will give you a clearer picture of how your customers use your product, and how it impacts their business.
6. Ask for and Give Referrals
Visiting customers is a great opportunity to get referrals. And to refer them to others as well. Don't just limit referrals to potential customers—any reason to put them in touch with other people is fair game, as long as you can see potential value for both parties.
Sometimes we see companies serving the same audience with complementary services—that's potential for a co-marketing initiative. If you introduce two happy customers to each other, and they collaborate together, and both get a ton of value out of it, you generate a lot of goodwill, and oftentimes very vocal brand advocates.
If you have a partner program set up, try to see if the customer you’re visiting would be a good candidate for that program, and help them understand how it works and the benefits they could get.
7. Create a Customer Visit Report for Your Team
If you do conduct a customer visit, make sure to document your learnings and take note of memorable moments. Then, you can share these insights with your team.
It's important that all the insights you gain during a customer visit actually become organizational knowledge—otherwise, your customer visits are basically useless.
So, set up a structured customer visit report that your team can peruse and learn from, both now and in the future. Inside this document, note specific items that will be of interest to the different teams in your company—for example, product feedback that your product managers may want to look at, customer journey insights that the marketing team should keep in mind, or product knowledge gaps that the customer success team may need to address.
To make sure everyone in the company benefits from customer visits, we try to share some pictures or highlights from our customer visits in Slack, and then during our weekly team meeting, a team member might give a quick 2-minute summary of their customer visit.
How Often Should You Plan Customer Visits?
There's no one-size-fits-all formula. It depends on your startup, but in general: you should meet them more often than you're meeting them now.
Jason Lemkin recommends every co-founder, CEO, and Customer Success Manager should meet on-site with five customers a month.
Being able to see the environment in which your customers use your product, the atmosphere at their workplace, and talking with the people who use your product daily is always an insightful experience.
Customer visits have been a crucial market research method for traditional businesses for many decades—but they're even more crucial for startups and SMBs. Your most powerful asset when you're in a market with established, large companies is your ability to understand your customers better and focus on their needs better than a large corporation can.
Michael Seibel, Managing Director at Y Combinator, said: "If you look around the startup ecosystem, you can find too many founders who believe that famous investors + lots of employees = winning. I bet most of our VC-backed competitors feel this way, and you can use this to defeat them (they aren't talking to customers nearly enough).”
Want more insights on talking to your customers? Get my book and learn more about building customer intimacy.