Living as and Learning about Your Customer

“The first tip was being the users ourselves. we still have our farms.”
-Brian Bett, Co-founder of Illuminum Greenhouses

Our last lesson touched on how to understand B2C (business to consumer) relationships. Here, two entrepreneurs expand on those experiences and how they address the challenges of understanding their customers.

##Living As Your Customer

“One major problem was that after sale services were really poor, a company was offering one agronomist officer for 200 farmers. They see that agronomist once every 3 months and their crops were failing. We sought to build our numbers as we built our staff. We constantly have a ratio we want to maintain, 20 farmers per agronomist, this enables great service, improved interaction, and more importantly, the farmer saves on transport costs.”
-Brian Bett, Co-founder of Illuminum Greenhouses

As mentioned above, one advantage of Bett and his co-founders was that they were their own customers. They used greenhouses on their farms. This allowed them to identify the areas where other greenhouses suppliers were failing to meet customer needs.

Bett and his co-founders built their company on this knowledge. This level of customer understanding helped him craft his company’s Unique Value Proposition (UVP), that thing he and his company were best at. But it also helped him in marketing and selling his product.

“You tell him what he produces will be better and where the risk is. Since you’ve done it yourself he is comfortable.”
-Brian Bett, Co-founder of Illuminum Greenhouses

Similarly to Felix Kimaru, Bett spoke the language of his customers, allowing him to quickly build trust and sell more efficiently. Of course, it’s not always possible to do this by being an example of your own customer, so how do outsiders do it?

##Learning About Your Customer

“By asking them how much they spend in money, we found out they’re very very aware of it, which is quite different to someone from the Western world. I can’t even tell you what my utility bill was last month, but they know, because it’s one of their 3 major expenses.”
-Matt Wainwright, Co-founder of Standard Microgrid, Africa Prize shortlist

The simply answer is that you ask. That’s what Matt Wainwright and his co-founders did. They spent lots of time in rural villages to really understand their customers’ needs, financial constraints, and desires.

“People in rural Africa have money, but it’s often quite erratic They have no access to credit, so if you want them to spend more than their monthly budget for energy, you start having a very un-viable product. The way you’ve got to price your product, whatever it is, has got to be within the monthly energy budget. That’s one of your key constraints.”
-Matt Wainwright, Co-founder of Standard Microgrid, Africa Prize shortlist

This knowledge allowed them to craft their product to their customers. As a result, they avoided the mistake of building something that was too expensive and didn’t address the unique needs of rural people. Instead, Standard Microgrid’s solar grids are finding tremendous success making electricity more available than ever before.

Similarly, Illuminum Greenhouses is expanding quickly in Kenya and helping more farmers than ever develop efficient greenhouse-based agriculture. Living as and learning about their customers was key to this success.