At SuperJam, the old adage that the customer is king has been extended a little. The jam maker’s customers are also asked to act as the marketing department and have found hundreds of independent shops to sell its products.

The reason for this is simple: despite selling half a million jars of preserve a year, amounting to 1 per cent of all UK jam sales, SuperJam is actually a
one-man business run by Fraser Doherty.

“You could say that they are doing a job that I
would otherwise have employed someone to do,” Doherty says.

The customers are arguably even more effective in that they give warm sales leads Doherty could never hope to muster on his own by cold calling shops.

The use of customers is just another extension of Doherty’s complete outsourcing of his company’s activities, from the manufacturing operations in Dundee to the sale of the product through Waitrose, Asda and Morrisons.

But larger businesses have also found value in engaging their customers.

Event promotion business Triumphant Events classifies its 1,148 customers as “affiliates”, encouraging them to promote the company’s activities through Twitter, Facebook, e-mails and blogs.

Daniel Priestley, Triumphant’s founder and chief executive, says: “We believe that our customers are our marketing team.”

Wonga.com, a flexible loans service, enables its customers to control where the business does charitable work by letting them vote on potential support to entrepreneurs in the developing world.

The company also landed the Webby People’s Voice Award, beating Bank of America among others, by asking customers to vote for it in the banking and bill payment category.

Z-Card, a marketing company specialising in information sheets that can be folded up to fit in a pocket, offers complimentary rates to customers who share the results of their first campaign with the company.
It recently did a deal with the Dublin Bus Company, which used Z-Card’s system to attach route maps to the back of its new contactless ticketing system.

Rachel Blair, Z-Card’s assistant manager, says: “Through using product champions we can ensure our offerings are tailored to market requirements, a good value service for our clients.”

A similar approach is taken by Donseed, which provides workplace management systems for the construction industry. In several cases, it has given discounts to customers who agree to act as a case study for the company.

Vincent Lynch, Donseed’s chief executive, says this avoids any confusion further down the line if the company asks for a case study. It also allows him to approach other peer companies to show what their competitors are able to achieve.

“When negotiating a deal, I find it important that a concession being given by me should be met with a concession from the other side,” Lynch says. “Call it my definition of fair trade.”

Ajay Mirpuri says he broke into new markets and developed new products by following advice and support from clients at his bespoke tailoring business.

One example was the company’s move into Israel on the basis of a single client reference, which immediately brought another 100 clients to the business.

“I had never thought I would go to Israel in my life,” Mirpuri says. “Now I love the country.”

Customer feedback has also stopped Mirpuri from making changes to his suits. For instance, Mipuri had been keen to end his tailors’ practice of stitching spare buttons into the right hand side of suits.

However, when he asked his clients from across the company’s London, New York and Geneva shops, he found that many valued the design quirk because it meant they had spare buttons if one fell off during a business trip.

“I hated that design, but 100 per cent of the people we asked said not to change it,” Mirpuri says.

Engaging with customers also proved profitable for Pauley Creative, a specialist digital marketing group for the construction industry.

Founder Nick Pauley went through his customer database and pulled out 30 companies that he felt would give frank and honest answers. Using the online questionnaire tool Survey Monkey, he asked them whether they would promote his company and, if they would, what they would say.

Pauley’s intention was to find out what customers felt about his company’s service, but the act of asking customers encouraged several of them to actually make a referral to another company.

One customer had given Pauley Creative a very low score, so Pauley made a point of approaching the company’s owner when the two were at a conference later that week.

The meeting had a dramatic effect: the very next day, the customer recommended Pauley Creative to a key decision maker within a national building company.

As a result, Pauley Creative is now on the building company’s approved supplier list, something which might have otherwise taken several months to achieve.

Pauley believes that the referral was entirely down to the fact that he had made the effort to reconnect with the customer, meaning that the business was fresh in the customer’s mind when an opportunity came up to recommend it.

“We hadn’t even discussed the low score fiasco,” Pauley notes.

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