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Customers travel through a series of steps—whether they know it or not—before they purchase at a local business. This is known as the customer journey.
We welcome Ahsen Mohammad to the Conquer Local podcast this week to talk about the Customer Journey. Ahsen took the concept and built his marketing agency, Customer Maps, and only serves five customers. Instead of stretching out to bring more and more clients on, he prefers to go all-in with his clients and become a part of their team. For customers, the journey they undergo is not something they often think about, as they are just looking for an outlet to fulfill their buying needs. For local businesses, the customer journey is the difference between a sale and a consumer buying products/services from a local competitor.
Ahsen has extensive experience of working for multiple global brands. He started his career with European Fashion brands. Ambition to work for multinational made him moved to global sports giant brand Adidas. He took up the role of Project Lead Re-Launch Reebok as a fitness initiator and authenticator. With a healthy challenge ahead, he undertook this role to innovate and introduce fresh ideas in every aspect of business and co-develop a marketing, digital marketing & retail strategy to sharpen the position of Reebok & Adidas Sport Performance.
George: It’s the latest edition of the Conquer Local Podcast and one of the things we are making an attempt to do as we move into summer and then eventually into fall here is we’ve got a mission that I’m on. And I said to producer Colleen here a couple of months back, we need to get more agency owners on the podcast to learn what they’re doing to be successful. And one agency owner that I met a couple of years back, his name is Ahsen Mohammed, he’s based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, spent a number of years in marketing for Adidas in India and then he moved to Canada and he built a digital agency. And the interesting thing about his business model, Ahsen runs Customer Maps, which is the name of the company, and he has five clients. And he’s built a business around that and we are going to dig into his business model. We’re gonna find out the things that are working, the things that are challenges. How has he built a business with just five customers? We’ll find out all about Customer Maps and Ahsen’s success in a moment right here on the Conquer Local Podcast. So Ahsen is joining me and Ahsen has an agency based out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast. It’s great having you online.
Ahsen: Hey, thank you so much, George, and it’s my pleasure to be talking to you.
George: So Ahsen is from India originally and he worked for a nice little company you may have heard of called Adidas. And, you were part of the global marketing team there for a number of years and then you decided, well, let’s move to Canada, and start a digital marketing company. And that’s when you and I met a little over a year back and I was thinking it’d be great to have you on the show because I think sometimes when people think starting up digital marketing company that we need a hundred accounts or we need 200 accounts and you’re feeding the kids and you’re running a great business. And how many businesses are you serving that you would call your core customers? How many, again?
Ahsen: I am serving five customers and I’m quite contented for now because I’m trying to grow and upsell them and take the complete portfolio with them.
George: So the interesting thing is five customers. You have to be doing a lot of… you have to be delivering a lot of value to those customers and gain them to spend some dollars in their budget. What type of businesses are these that you are working with?
Ahsen: I mean, the companies that I’m helping with, two of my clients are based in the U.S. One is a software company that is focusing more on oil and gas company, the midstream oil and gas company trying to help them into data gathering and data collection. And also I think there’s a U.S government new regulation, which is BLM 3175. So they are the company that helps oil and gas companies get compliant on that. Another is Escape Room down in Houston, which we are trying to help in driving a lot of traffic. I think things were going really very strong with us when we were finally hit by this pandemic. The other three clients we have in Calgary, so the other, the big client in Calgary that we have, is a health professional. He’s into alternative health treatment, alternative heart treatments. So anyone who plans to go to a cardiologist may not like to go to him, but he has a solution for them at a much cheaper cost.
Customer Journey Map – a Guide for All Business Owners
George: Well, I’m fascinated and I’m hearing this from more and more professionals that I’m getting the opportunity to meet that you’ve made a decision to go deep into these customers rather than wide. So rather than have a hundred customers, you’re choosing to go and be an expert for five larger monthly spends, larger retainer, and solve more of their problems. And one of the things we talked about when producer Colleen was prepping for this episode is you’re a big believer in the customer journey and the way that we’ve laid that out in the platform. We talked about it before on the podcast. I’d love to get your feedback as to how that customer journey map applies to, let’s say, the oil and gas company, the software and the oil and gas space that you’re working with.
Ahsen: Sure, thank you. I mean, that’s an interesting question, George. Let me go a little back. It all starts with my professional assignment with the Adidas’s Group as well as European Fashion. I handled different categories, sports, fashion, lifestyle. I think one thing that has remained consistent and constant across all the verticals is the modern customer journey, the way people shop and behave and they take series of steps moving from one stage, to the other stage, to the third stage. Any local business or any SMB who does not understand and implement those customer journey map, they might be losing tons of customers that they could have gotten. Now, what is that journey? It’s a series of five steps. It starts all with awareness, findability, reputation, conversion and finally leads to advocacy. And advocacy, as we talk, is getting bigger, and bigger and stronger. More businesses and brands are realizing it. I mean, I know there were days when only Apple, and Nike, and Adidas, and Sony, and Netflix, used to talk about the advocacy part, but it is getting down to all the other brands.
George: Well, I’m glad that you talked about that because it is, a lot of people are like, ah, advocacy, I’ve gotta be Adidas to be… but it’s not that way. I’m looking for this, when you get a new customer, is it a referral usually that is leading to that new client for you?
Ahsen: Yes, it is a referral and advocacy.
George: That’s advocacy.
Ahsen: Yeah, and advocacy for me is like free advertising. It’s a free advertisement, you’re not doing anything. You’re just making the existing current client happy. And selecting the best of services to them.
Advocacy – a Vital Block in Building Clientele
George: When we talk about advocacy, let’s first talk about it for you and your business, which is called Customer Maps. You’re looking for that next customer. And it’s interesting, you don’t have a lot of clients. You’ve got five and you’re very, very happy with that and you’re running a great business with that. So you’re using the referral to find a sixth that is around the size of those five. You’re not really, again, going wide, you’re going deeper to find. And is referral, in your opinion, a great way to find those larger customers?
Ahsen: Yup, well, definitely, I think it’s a century-old way of growing your business. I mean, 50 years ago, a hundred years ago, there were no digital media. People are still used to do trade and businesses and word of mouth used to be a strong thing. Now the new word of mouth is online.
George: So when we talk about the customer journey, you referred to it earlier and I just want to ask you this question. You talked about consumer, but I find that a couple of your businesses are B2B, so it’s businesses selling to businesses. Are you saying then that the customer journey is the same?
Ahsen: Yeah, the customer journey is the same. I’m primarily focusing more on getting engaged with the B2B kind of clients because I have to really understand their product and take them from one stage to the final stage. So I live and breath their brand and come up with a strategy on messaging on the content creation, what kind of an ads awareness is a big part for me. And I rely heavily on ads, different kinds of ads. And local ads is like this customer that I’m talking about. We are working with local ads in the U.S market. Within–
Becoming Part of Their Team – Diving Deep
George: So then, I’d like to ask a few questions around some of the tactics that you’re finding when you’re working with these organizations. Is it like you’re a part of their team?
Ahsen: It is, yeah, it is, yeah. I evolve that way now. The onus is on me. I hold myself accountable… and try and work so closely with them that they feel that I’m a part of their team. And I’m servicing them well. So I’m an extended part of their team.
George: Well, it’s–
Ahsen: Sitting here in Calgary, I’m a part of a U.S. enterprise.
George: It’s interesting, and that’s why I wanted to ask about that. So that is part of this going deep. If we were to talk to one of those five clients, and I wanted to really dig into this, they would just think you’re on the team. Like you attend the meetings, you’re spending hours with them on a daily basis. So this is really more of a… it’s more of a strategic deployment and it’s more of a retainer type of an aspect.
Ahsen: To illustrate with an example, last week I got an email from the CEO of the enterprise. He was wanting me to hop on a call where his entire team was there. He wanted some feedback on the video that he has created.
George: Well, it’s a trusted local advisor. And you’re at the beck and call of these five customers. Now, this is the question I have. It would be really hard to have a hundred of these if you’re gonna offer that level of service.
Ahsen: I think so unless and until I expand my team, I grow my team, and I pass on the same spirit and DNA and customer service behaviors and attributes to the entire team so that we live and breathe.
George: So you do aspire to grow the organization.
George: But they would… the people that you bring on would have to have that same work ethic and that same strategic view that you do.
Ahsen: Yeah, totally.
George: And what about outsourcing various components? Like are you doing a bunch of the work? Are you providing the strategic guidance and then outsourcing and bringing in trusted people to execute like if we were talking about a web build or a video? Like how are you handling that when you have to do some of the heavy lifting. Is that you or is it somebody else?
Ahsen: So, it’s a combination of some in-house team and my strategic partnership with ad friends in Vendasta. So like when I was referring to the local ads, which is more true with geotargeting and GPS technology utilization. So I trust them and I rely on them to help me with that. So it’s a combination of both.
George: Well, it’s really interesting to me and I’ve been hearing more and more about this from particular partners where, one of our think tanks here last week, we had one of our partners from Louisiana, Tonya Wren, who I’ve known for quite some time. She’s built a hell of a business there with 20 or 30 customers. And again, she’s going quite deep and she’s doing a lot of things, but it’s almost like she’s an extension of the staff of her clients. And that’s why we wanted to get you on the show to talk about some of the challenges that this poses. Is it structured? Do you have a structured meeting date with these customers? Do they know that you’re [available]? Are you just at their beck and call, they just call you any time or text and you have to be available? Like how are you handling the deployment when these five clients want to get you involved?
Ahsen: So it’s also a learning curve for me from being really on a structured. We are moving into a realm where we’re getting to follow a more calendar approach and we are like fixing time for reviews. And we have like proper targets and goals. So, I could remember a whole phase where a lot of like chaos was there, and a lot of random calls being exchanged. But now I think it is more organized and I feel a part of a team. So I have access to their calendar and I can see who and who is available when, and I can book personal meetings in wide. I don’t need to be like going to the head of the department every time getting approvals. So like yesterday also I tracked a bunch of leads from the local ads and I passed it onto the sales representative in the U.S, hopped on the call and explained to him what he needed to do. So I think as we move forward it is getting more organized.
George: Well, interesting. So, one of the things that you’ve learned then, just so we can give this as a takeaway to our listeners, ’cause I think they’re gonna be very intrigued by this, is that in the early days, you’re doing anything you can to get cemented into the team. And then you’ve been able to build in some structure so you can have a life and you can go bowling, or you can go to a movie or something like that and you’re not looking at your phone the whole time. So get that structure though. You had to figure out how the… this is what I’m hearing from you. You had to figure out how that business operated and then you were able to impose some structure after a period of time. Is that what you’re saying?
Ahsen: Yeah, and this is what customer centricity is, so I have to understand my customers. I have to understand their trigger, their aspiration, their motivation, their work, work style, how they operate and then try to gel up with them and add value and show value to them.
New Tactics – Listening and Learning the Foundation of a Win-Win
George: So one of the things that I have heard from organizations as a bit of a challenge, is what if you wanna deploy a new strategy or a new tactic into those customers? How would you go about doing that with one of these clients?
Ahsen: I mean, first, the approach that I take is that I become a very, very good listener and I listen tons and understand what their pain points are, what their challenges are, and try to give an overview of who the stakeholders would be in that organization and then try to come up with a plan which solves each of the problems for each individual stakeholder and show them that… and anything, so, I am not in this strategy where I try to sell them some solution that I have, but I try to understand what are their business goals, what are they trying to achieve? And then try to marry and align my marketing goal with their business goal and then create a win-win.
George: Well, when I first met you and we were talking about your time at Adidas leading the marketing charge there, you told me that you really enjoyed being a student. What I’m hearing from you is this is one of the key components as to why people are paying you this retainer. It’s that strategic view that you have and the fact that you’re a listener. When it comes to offering the guidance, and this is always one of the challenges where now you’re going to impose your will and you’re going to say, here are the things that I know and here’s my experience and now you wanna get yourself cemented into that team. Any suggestions as to how our listeners might be able to learn from the work that you’ve been doing? Like what are some tactics as to how you have built that level of trust?
Ahsen: So, I had zero understanding of the oil and gas industry when I started. I had no clue. I had to go through the bunch of tutorials myself to understand their product, understand their market, understand their competition, understand their value proposition and then sit on the table and talk to them. And then they started listening to me. So first, I think it’s the heavyweight lifting that we have to do in terms of understanding the organization, the brand, and just getting into it, and being really, really open-minded. So it’s like those hours of hard work that has gone to understand and do a lot of research and try to see how I can create value to them and bringing, of course, the latest cutting-edge technology and solutions.
George: So what–
Ahsen: And people value if you show them results. I mean, everyone needs results. So if you are result-oriented and if you measure what you do, it’s good, you are there.
George: And then, I don’t think that this happened overnight. So I’d love it if you could give us an idea as to what the timeframe is ’cause I’m sure there are listeners sitting there going, well, I’m doing this and I don’t have five customers paying me enough money so that… I only have to deal with five clients. Like, my experience has been to build a relationship with that level of trust. It doesn’t happen in a month or two months. What’s your experience been, Ahsen?
Ahsen: It takes a couple of months to have that initial trust build. And then you have to keep on cementing and growing that trust with every meeting. When you go and you talk and you add value and you make sense, then you keep on cementing that trust that you have laid the foundation. So, anywhere between three to six months is that relationship and you actually start loving each other.
George: We really appreciate the insights and the feedback from this business model because I think this business model is probably more common than a business model where an agency, one person running an agency has hundreds of accounts. I believe that they have a small piece of accounts and what you’ve really touched on today is the level of due diligence, research, and depth that you need to have to build those relationships to get that large retainer. But I do wanna note one thing that I heard and I’d love to get one more piece of feedback. How important is it to bring the innovation? How important is it to be seen as the person that has that cutting-edge technology, those best practices?
Ahsen: Oh, that is absolutely critical. That’s very, very important. But to enable to show that you are able to implement that innovation in a rightful manner, you have to understand the product and understand the brand. So both have to go hand-in-hand. And so I’m not doing anything differently. I still talk about that customer journey map. I take my clients and show them that, okay, we are into awareness phase, then we are doing some listings and search engine optimization and now we are moving into and collecting a lot of reviews from your existing client, you have logged on the website, clear call to action, all device optimized, et cetera, et cetera. And then we implement the part of advocacy. And I’m also like trying to implement the CRM for them.
George: Well, those are some great insights and I really appreciate getting you to give us a deep dive into some of your customer relationships, how long it’s taken to build them, some of the challenges that you’ve had. Congratulations on a very successful model. And we wish you all the best with Customer Maps. And, Ahsen, stay safe. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Conquer Local Podcast.
Ahsen: Great, thank you, George. You have a great day as well.
George: What I like about that episode and the learnings are you don’t need hundreds of customers. He has chosen the go-deep model. So he finds the right customers, he builds an enormous amount of trust, he puts the effort in to figure out a strategy that will work for them. Then he went back to the customer journey thing that works every time. The customer journey story is vital. And then honing in on the various stages of the customer journey and deploying tactics. You heard about local ads, which was working for that U.S.-based tech company that was dealing in the oil and gas space. Five clients, a great business has been built. And now he’s looking at maybe scaling it, but he’s being very careful to find the right people that follow that very customer-centric view that Ahsen has for his agency. So, great feedback, some interesting insights, and we look forward to hearing from you in the Conquer Local community, and your feedback on this episode, and any episode of the Conquer Local Podcast. Plus, I love hearing those suggestions around, boy, we’d love an episode about this, or could you give us some more insights on that? Please leave those comments in the community or reach out to me directly on LinkedIn, It’s George Leith, L-E-I-T-H on LinkedIn. Thanks for joining us for this edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.