CO.STARTERS Week 3: Getting The Relationship Right

A lesson in getting, keeping, and growing your customer base.

Last week we talked about knowing your customer, which is essential when creating products and services they’ll actually find valuable. But this week we talked about all that goes into keeping your customers once they’ve become fans of what you’re doing.

To open up our session we were visited by CO.STARTER alumnus, and founder of CollegeSmart, Ryan Keel

CollegeSmart Founder, Ryan Keel

CollegeSmart Founder, Ryan Keel

Ryan’s company helps parents send their college-bound students to a school that best fits their aspirations, while paying as little out of pocket as possible. His previous 20-year career as an investment adviser provides him with an intimate knowledge of the finance world, and he brings those insights into every conversation he has with CollegeSmart customers. 

CO.STARTERS at The Nice Center

Finding & Keeping Customers

Speaking of customers, how did Ryan find and keep them?

At first, Ryan thought he had a good idea of who he could help. He pursued customers — originally friends and people close to him — whom he thought would most benefit from his services. He discovered, however, that they weren’t always as receptive to his offer as he’d hoped. And the time he spent trying to convince people that he could help was actually keeping him from helping those who already knew they needed it.

In time, people began to seek his assistance through referrals. (When you help someone save thousands of dollars on college tuition they tend to tell their friends!) He also began sharing “freebies” — helpful tips and insights that help people make more informed financial decisions regarding their college tuition — which eventually led to paying customers.

On top of Ryan’s insights from building his own company through relational marketing, we dove into CO.STARTERS coursework.

Marketing is the process of building a relationship with your customer, getting the customer to know, like, and trust you.

During our session, our facilitator Elizabeth Phares-Oren equated relational marketing to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are the critical base layers of the pyramid that must first be met before other layers can rest sustainably atop the others. In marketing, we identified the base foundation as “Know.” 

Hierarchy of Marketing_CO.STARTERS

  • Know: Before customers can decide what they think about you, they need to be able to clearly understand what it is you offer or do.
  • Like: Once people know what you’re all about, they’ll then decide if they like you or not. People prefer businesses that are authentic, real, personal, approachable, and express a unique voice. In order to get customers to like you, you have to be open and honest, inviting them to engage with you.
  • Trust: A sale only occurs when a customer trusts you. Trust comes from consistency and following through on what you say you’re going to do. It’s about being credible and dependable.

These are the building blocks of relational marketing. By staying true to each one of these layers, you’ll attract, keep, and carry on repeat business with your customers.

NEXT WEEK’S FOCUS — Building the Model to Scale

During Week 4, we will cover:

  • Starting small
  • Getting your product or service to your customer
  • How to get paid
  • Determining your typical sale
  • Pricing

We will also welcome a very special guest speaker, another CO.STARTERS graduate! Christy Tehven is founder of Love Always Floral, a custom floral design outfit that beautifies weddings and special events with “the freshest blooms, unique vases, and the utmost attention to detail.” 


Though our Winter Cohort is off and running, we are accepting applicants for our Spring and Summer Cohorts on a rolling basis. Apply here.

Posted on January 31st, 2020 by Dane Johnson in Resources