Visa’s Blog – Visa Viewpoints


Jul 30, 2013


Secrets of Small Business Success: July Part IV


Last week, Donna chatted with Janine Popick, founder and CEO of VerticalResponse, provider of email, social media, and event marketing services to small businesses. Janine shared her views on how to wisely manage and leverage customer databases. This week, Donna speaks with top CEOs from companies like Mavens & Moguls, ONEHOPE Wine, Modcloth, and BrandYourself on how they navigated research and development waters. Donna also shares tips on who the first person you should turn to in order to get feedback on your product or service.


Janet – @jzablock



Free R & D for Your Business is Only a Customer Away

By Donna Fenn, Small Business Expert


Smart startup entrepreneurs know that it’s unwise to strive for perfection when you’re launching a new product or service. It’s far better to get that messy early version out into the marketplace and let customer feedback help you iterate and perfect. In fact, all companies – no matter what their stage of growth – should turn to their customers for guidance because it’s very easy to assume that what you want to sell is what they want to buy, which is not always the case.


Be Aware of Changing Economic Tides. When the recession began in late 2008, Paige Arnof-Fenn, the CEO of the strategic marketing consulting firm, Mavens & Moguls, went on what she calls a “listening tour” among her customers and prospects.  “I heard that budgets had been scaled back, so I created smaller bite-sized ways to work with companies that accommodated the new reality,” she says. She also discovered that clients were confused about social media, so she developed a series of workshops and training sessions to help educate them.  By finding a way to accommodate customers when times were tough, Arnof-Fenn made sure that her company was top of mind when the economy improved.


Monitor Customer Perception. Jake Kloberdanz’s ONEHOPE Wine is a social enterprise whose product sales benefit charitable causes such as breast cancer prevention, forest preservation, and Autism research.  “Our original labels really hit you over the head with the cause,” recalls Kloberdanz. Customers liked the company’s mission but kept asking “is the wine any good?”  So Kloberdanz redesigned the label, making the cause element more subtle and using the back label to highlight the quality of the wine. The result: distributors, buyers and consumers responded positively and the customer-driven change in packaging helped increase distribution from 10,000 cases to 50,000 cases.

Give Customers a Voice. At online clothing retailer, Modcloth, customers are encouraged to be “virtual members” of the company’s buying team through its Be the Buyer program.  Customers vote on styles they’d like to see on the site. Modcloth can then order the items with the most votes and notify customers when their picks are available online. The program not only helps drive customer engagement, but also enables Modcloth to make smarter buying and inventory decisions.


Focus on What Customers Really Want. When it launched, BrandYourself, an online reputation management company, offered customers a variety of services, including tracking twitter followers and recommending blog posts.  “What we learned from customers is that they didn’t want any of those features,” says CEO Patrick Ambron. “They just wanted functionality that helped them look better on Google.”  So the company re-launched with a simplified product, got rid of the irrelevant features, and beefed up tools to help users optimize their appearance on Google.  The bottom line: a ten-fold increase in BrandYourself’s user base and quadrupled revenue.


Are you spending at least as much time listening to your customers as you are trying to sell them something? If not, you’re missing out on a whole lot of free R&D!


Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.



Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on July 30, 2013 at 12:23 pm