What does it take to turn a customer into a fan?

What turns them into a fan in the first place?

It’s a question I am addressing as part of my first book. It always fascinates me how much more value you get if a customer becomes an advocate of your business – when they start referring you to others without even asking them. Fans go the extra mile. They drop what they are doing to be part of the momentum you create. They’ll stand up to defend you to critics as if they were working for you. That’s priceless. However, the question is: What turns them into a fan in the first place?

There are many aspects to this: the product itself, your service around your product, the magic you’re creating around your brand, etcetera. However, for this blog I’ll focus on the aspects of the product. If I review my personal experiences and mix that with the insights from the +80 podcast interviews with technology pioneers I’ve done over the past year, I’d highlight this as my top 5 areas to focus on from a product innovation perspective:

Be there when it matters most

These are the examples where the solution you use helps you out of a challenging, time-pressured situation without dropping you. The story from Corti comes to mind in my conversation with their CEO Andreas Cleve: They’re using AI to help 911 call agents uncover the ‘real’ issue in a split second.

How often do we see precisely the opposite: When it gets complicated, you’re on your own. Moreover, it’s often those moments where the user can become the star and deliver value beyond the expected. That’s valuable. So, if you want to turn customers into fans, solve those moments. Solve the hard parts first that will give you credits.

Think in Win-Win-Win scenarios

Translate the problem forward. How can you solve a challenge your customer is facing in such a way it actually will make them look like the hero with their customers.

I recently spoke to Abhay Gupta, CEO of Bidgely. They are transforming the utility/energy industry. And although individual energy companies get much value from the solution operationally, the side effect of their product works like a magnet to their customers.

That’s perceived so valuable that their customers have started to ‘plug’ them within their television commercials because it offers them a competitive advantage.

Make it magically happen – i.e., make your technology invisible

Often the way to get people to become your fan is not to create the next best UI but to completely remove it altogether. I always liked the example from my previous employer Unit4, who removed the need for so many of us who have to submit their timesheet every week. Everybody loves that.

Well, instead of making it easier to enter, they now ‘propose it’ based on all the trails it can uncover and it’s self-learning capabilities. +90% of the time that’s correct. In other words: Check, Done.

Focus on the result, not the process

How often are we investing in software that’s just about tracking things and moving things through a process to realize that it just makes us more reactive, and it doesn’t contribute to better results? CRM works like this; ERP works like this and many more tools.

A fascinating example that does the opposite is from First.io. Mike Schneider, their CEO told me that in Real Estate, the best agents still miss out on +60% of the opportunities in their territory. Opportunities that exist from people they know.

So instead of building ‘a better CRM,’ they started focusing on the outcome – recommending people that are actually in the market to buy or sell their house. Their solution became ‘anti-viral.’ Real Estate agents love the solution so much, they want to keep it a secret.


So here’s the last category in my top-5: Surprise always helps to create fans. It’s a component of all situations above, but I believe it should stand on itself as a crucial component to focus on.

A surprise comes in many flavors – and its power is that it goes beyond the ‘average.’ It can be as simple as a nudge for valuable insight, or an alert that helps you prevent or accelerate something.

A recent solution I started to use fits in this category – it’s CliClap, a content recommendation tool on my website. First of all, for me it’s does magic since I don’t have to break my head any more about what content to put where on my website. However, more importantly, visitors to my site get highly personalized (and accurate) recommendations on content ‘surprisingly’ relevant for them.

What about you?

What makes me curious: What software products are you a fan of?  Moreover, what aspect of that product exactly turned you into a fan? Please share.

About the author

Sales Pitch

Ton Dobbe is a former B2B software product marketer who's on a mission to save mission-driven SaaS CEOs from the stress of 'not enough' traction. He's the author of The Remarkable Effect, the host of the Tech-Entrepreneur on a Mission podcast, and writes a daily newsletter on the secrets to mastering predictable traction.