Sticky customers. Brand loyalty. You shouldn't expect to nail it on day one - but you do need to nail it, if your business is to grow and pull in those vital sales. As Esther Stanhope, entrepreneur and impact coach to many business executives and fellow entrepreneurs advises, the key to commanding the right attention from your target customers and to propelling your business to the front of the competitive pack, is to know your audience. Stand in their shoes and ask yourself honestly, what do they care about? What are they thinking? What do they really want? And really importantly, what do they NOT want? It sounds straightforward and rather obvious.

In reality however, many businesses start out by assuming that they know what their customers want and they tell those customer what they want to tell them - which may be very different in fact from what those customers want to hear. When we started thinking about how we'd launch a new, disruptive business in our industry, I won't pretend that we didn't make a few naive assumptions ourselves. Holding customer focus and feedback groups, hosting testing sessions before you launch a new product or service, running surveys and spending time on some worthwhile competitive market analysis are good routes to double-checking that you're on the right tracks. It's good to be confident there will be demand for what you launch, when you're finally ready to take it to market. Being able to demonstrate this in a compelling way can also have a significant bearing on whether you can secure any investment you might want on sensible terms. The more you can show demand exists and that you've got great potential to create sticky customer relationships, the more attractive you're going to look to investors and also to new recruits as well. All of this activity contributes to optimising your growth potential. In our new business, we've done all of these things and we've learned loads that helped us to refine our ideas and prevent us making the wrong assumptions.

Another common mistake (that Esther herself has experienced several times) is businesses failing to listen to their customers and/or trying to shoe-horn them into a one-size-fits-all solution that they typically apply to lots of other customers. There can be few things more off-putting to a customer than feeling like they are just another wallet that you want to raid instead of feeling special and individually important to you. Listening, staying in touch, being available and easily accessible can mean the difference between you banking that first sales opportunity and capturing the next repeat one, and losing the gig right at the start.

We've learned this directly. In some ways, you can never listen enough. And it's important to keep it up. Keep getting that feedback. Keep in touch. In fact, we've found this so valuable that we realised over the last 12 months of our own reinvention activity that our customers are the best management and marketing consultants we could ask for. They know what they want, they are honest about sharing that with us and we often work together in refining our ideas based on their needs and their feedback. It's a great way of building brand loyalty relatively quickly because everyone feels they have something invested in the outcome and we all want it to work.

It won't happen overnight. But it can happen sooner, if you take the right steps to finding out what your customers really want and you stay connected with them, telling them not what you want to say, but what they want to know (and not a lot else).

There are some solid, easy and pragmatic suggestions in the attached article by small Because at the end of the day, every business needs to invest the thought and the time into keeping its customer relationships 'sticky'. The good news is that there are lots of ways to do this, and most of them won't cost you the earth.