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How is your company measuring progress?

5 min read


If you believe the stats, then most startups are doomed to fail. And depending on who you ask, there are a lot of reasons why most don’t make it. So, what’s the best way for a startup to measure its progress during those pivotal first couple of years?

Simple: customer growth and satisfaction.

To me, what’s always exciting about startups like Instagram for example is how many new customers they’re onboarding and how much users like the platform. And let’s face it, no one can argue with their stats.

So, how many customers is your startup onboarding per quarter? And how much do they like you? If you don’t know, then figure it out. And while you’re at it, consider these points as you develop your own goals to measure corporate success.

Customer growth through advocacy

It goes without saying, but customers that champion your brand are worth their weight in gold. Believe me.

So, get out there. Mingle with your target customers. Figure out who the major players are. Then grow your customer base by demonstrating the value that your product brings to your current customers’ work, their lives, and their industries. Make your product so good, so disruptive that your customers simply can’t do without. Make it so essential that you turn users into customer champions, compelled to broadcast the benefits that your solutions bring and helping to bring new customers into the fold.

Easier said than done? Probably. Worth the effort? For sure. And here’s why.

We know that customers like to buy products based on recommendations from friends, family and co-workers. Case in point: A recent Forrester report found that 46% of U.S. online consumers have confidence in consumer reviews, and professional reviews are trusted by 55% of respondents.

Trust is the key here. In fact, it’s the backbone to why customer advocacy works so well. Take full advantage of it. Nurture these brand lovers to grow your business.

Customer satisfaction breeds success

Customer satisfaction is a solid measure of success. And you’ll never meet this measure or build customer advocacy if you don’t listen to customer feedback. It’s simple really. Your customers are waiting, in fact dying to tell you what they think. All you need to do is ask. But don’t even bother asking if you’re not going to act on the feedback.

Customers want to love your product. They want it to help them solve real problems. But what they don’t want is to give your company feedback only to have it disappear into thin air, never acted on. So ask your customer’s opinions, make real change based on this feedback and then share the love with them.

Thank them for the help. Articulate how you’ll use their voice to improve your product. Don’t miss the opportunity to form genuine relationships and to truly satisfy the people that you exist to serve. Your customers.

Build a fanatical focus

While many entrepreneurs are great at talking about long-term vision, they’re sometimes fuzzy when it comes to short-term priorities. Don’t make this mistake. Instead, develop a 90-day plan and focus in on a specific target. This may sound obvious, but if you’ve clearly identified the problem that your product or service solves then narrowing your target audience to start with is absolutely key. Remember, you have to nail it before you scale it.

So, don’t lose focus here. I see way too many companies fall into this trap. Determine your goals, be relentless in achieving them and then spread your wings.

For Qualtrics, it was all about academia, because we had our beginnings in academic research. So for us, it made perfect sense to solely and aggressively focus on this market. Success for us meant signing 250 universities. Every conversation we had was around landing the 250. Every time somebody got distracted, somebody else would say “250.” But the external and internal noise was constantly pulling us away from our target. Still, we were hell-bent on hitting our goal. And by the time we secured 200 universities, our viral growth had taken off.

So, what’s your 250?

Look, 12 years after launching my company, I’ve come to understand that there is no single measure of success. It’s more about successfully establishing goals that matter to your startup and aggressively working to achieve them. By doing so, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what your company needs to do to succeed.

Ryan Smith co-founded Qualtrics in 2002 with the goal of making sophisticated research simple. As CEO, he has led the company from a basement startup to one of the fastest-growing technology companies in the world, experiencing triple-digit growth in the past four years. Qualtrics has more than 5,000 customers, including half of the Fortune 100, 1,300 colleges and universities worldwide, and 95 of the top 100 business schools. Smith was named one of Forbes’ “America’s Most Promising CEOs Under 35” for 2013 and has been featured in Fortune, Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.