Why Some Companies Are Focusing on Recruiting Their Best Customers

July 25, 2018

When the team at Kraft realized that Velveeta, their processed cheese product, wasn’t growing as fast as they hoped, they took a look at the data and found something surprising.

While “hardcore” Velveeta fans—the ones who love it and use it in all their recipes—made up only 10% of buyers, these “superconsumers” accounted for more than 50% of the product’s profits. By simply shifting their strategy from targeting all shoppers to focusing on this minority of ultra-passionate customers, Kraft was able to generate more than $100 million in new sales.

As it turns out, recruiters can also benefit from your company’s superfans by hiring them. Your best customers aren’t just a source of revenue—the truly passionate ones can also become energized, empathetic, and engaged employees who are especially easy to reach with recruiting messages. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best reasons to consider hiring your own loyal customers.

1. You can trust their creative ideas because they know your products or services

Once Kraft realized the potential of their Velveeta superfans, they tapped into the creative energy already being generated by those consumers. Velveeta’s superconsumers were using the product in unique ways, and part of Kraft’s strategy to reinvigorate the brand was to collect their recipes and market Velveeta’s lesser-known uses.

Kraft learned those lessons by listening to its customers—but companies like Keurig take that approach a step further by actually hiring their own superfans. As Keurig was growing, former president Michelle Stacy realized that in order to inspire creative innovations and risk-taking, the company had to rely on team members who loved coffee as much as its consumers.

“We were growing so fast it was hard to oversee everything,” said Michelle, speaking to Harvard Business Review. “That our employees loved a wide variety of coffee . . . like our consumers [did] made it easier to trust they would do the right thing.”

Innovations are key to long-term growth and success, and by building a culture of coffee lovers, Keurig was able to develop new ideas that were in tune with its customers’ wishes and desires.

2. They’re already passionate about your brand, mission, and values

Your brand is more than just the sum of your products and services—it encompasses everything from the tone of your messaging to your core values. And while you can try to instill those elements into your hires via onboarding and training, your superconsumers represent a group that already understands and embraces your brand’s values.

Consider the example of Cricket Stewart, a superfan of The Container Store. She shopped there so often that over time, the employees got to know her and convinced her to join the team. She did, and the store gained a passionate, loyal, and engaged new hire who fit right in with the existing culture.

“By hiring your customers, you get employees, like Cricket, who were already fans of your products,” writes Kip Tindell, chairman of The Container Store. “They come with a wealth of first-hand knowledge that makes them even more well prepared [and] your customers benefit from the excellent service that only a passionate brand-ambassador and product expert can provide.”

3. They’re able to connect with your customers because they are your customers

Every great company tries to listen closely to its customers, because empathizing with them can help you better understand their needs—sometimes even before they do. And by bringing your best customers onto the team, you give yourself an easy way to tap into that empathy on a regular basis.

For example, when Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, was working to build Netflix in its early days, the company hired a lot of at-home binge-watchers and media consumers as a way of bringing its customers onto the team. And when Netflix made the move from a DVD-by-mail service to online streaming, those employees were able to see opportunities for future growth that others might have missed. For example, because Netflix employees admitted to having “guilty pleasures,” they realized they could use the data they were collecting to suggest a variety of content to users, even if it wasn’t the stuff they were most proud to be watching.

In other words, these TV-loving employees helped them realize that sometimes watching shows is more like eating junk food (which you don’t want anyone to know about) than having a fancy dinner out. These days, Netflix even hires full-time, professional binge watchers to watch, research, and analyze its own content.

“It was as if our consumers were sitting right next to me at the company,” said Patty to Harvard Business Review. “And guess what—we discovered we were no different than our consumers… We stopped judging our consumers and ourselves about our media habits.”

4. It's easy to get your job opportunities in front of them 

A few years ago, IKEA Australia received over 4,200 applications—with no media spend, no delivery or postage costs, and zero job listings involved.

Their team’s innovative idea was to create a fun set of “career instructions” (with the tagline “assemble your future”)—essentially printed job ads that were designed to look exactly like the company’s instruction sheets for assembling furniture. They then inserted the instruction sheets into the “flat packs” that customers take home with them after shopping at the store. 

This strategy spoke directly to their customers—those who “love the brand,” in IKEA’s own words—and was designed to be easy to pass on to interested friends and family. This low-cost, high-impact approach led to 280 hires for IKEA’s Australian stores, each of which were already superfans of the iconic Swedish brand.

You already know how important it is—and how challenging it can be—to recruit top passive talent to your company. These are the candidates who might be willing to consider an offer for the right role, but aren’t actively looking for a change. Fortunately, your customer base offers yet another place to look for passive talent—and best of all, they may be easier to reach because they’re already engaging with your brand.

LinkedIn data shows that while most working professionals aren’t actively looking for a new position, the vast majority are open to hearing about new opportunities. Even better, you can reach the passive candidates within your loyal customer base in a plethora of ways, from social media job ads to printing hiring information on your receipts. Plus, because this group is already passionate and engaged with your brand, they’re more like to consider an opportunity and accept an offer once you reach out to them.

Your best customers probably already make up a big chunk of your revenue and have remained loyal to your brand—but you might be surprised to learn how many are also willing to join your team, where they can contribute uniquely empathetic viewpoints and innovative new ideas.

*Photo from IKEA

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