Lighthouse Customers: Four Best Practices

A lighthouse is a great metaphor, symbolizing safe passage ahead. Throughout my career, I've associated it with really important customers because they're the ones that help safely navigate small startups into burgeoning businesses.

Lighthouse customers are similar to anchor tenants in a shopping center. Others follow their lead. Lighthouse customers are your company’s champions (and hopefully become members of your Advisory Council). Lighthouse customers support your vision and have tremendous influence on your product or service roadmap because they've committed to you and you've committed to them. You’ll have other customers, for sure, but these lighthouse accounts are the shining examples of your software and service in action. They’ll be your references to investors. They’ll speak to analysts and press. They are your showcases.

That said, they don’t all have to be from the same industry. However, they do have to share the pain points your business is solving.

When it comes to lighthouse accounts, here are four things I tell the Alchemist Accelerator startups that I mentor to keep in mind:

1.     You're forming a partnership that requires commitment on both sides.

2.     Find big names that can be “company makers.”

3.     A solid ‘how many’ rule of thumb is 1:1.

4.     Companies do change.

Both Sides Commit to the Partnership

In the era of subscription selling, it's more important than ever for you to have happy and satisfied customers. Lighthouse accounts provide an inside view into what prospects and customers really need and what your organization is doing (and can do better) to deliver.

For your part, your company will need to provide direct access to your CEO as well as establish a dedicated support team. Best practices with lighthouse customers include

·      Monthly check-ins between executives

·      Quarterly in-person, on-site meetings at either the customer or company location

·      Bi-monthly meetings with clearly defined action items by team

·      Weekly internal email updates about lighthouse customer progress

Recognizing the importance of these key accounts, some startups showcase lighthouse customer logos on their walls. Others host lunch & learns about the customers' businesses, hearing from champions, investors, influencers, and even media presenters.

But the relationship can’t be one-sided.

Lighthouses have to commit, too, meaning they should allocate executive access and provide significant input to your roadmap, but without too many absolute demands. There’s also financial equitability. Lighthouse accounts should pay for what they use, with the exception of possible discounting in exchange for specific marketing activities, such as quotes in press releases or speaking engagements at industry events. Remember, our companies charge customers for our software and services because nothing should be free when you’re providing a valuable service or product.

Find Big Names that Can Be “Company Makers”

Lighthouse customers should be well-recognized brands. It may not be widely known, but forward-looking companies across industries -- think Starbucks and Target, VISA and Mastercard, JPMorgan Chase and PNC, for example -- want to work with you as much as you want to work with them. Global giants stay ahead of competitors by finding ways and new technologies that improve processes, increase customer engagement, drive revenue, and reduce costs. If you have something that can give them an edge, they’re interested.

Association with a few big brands puts a company on the map. Lighthouse accounts not only open doors, they offer tremendous opportunities for the kind of high-scale growth that can make a company wildly successful. Teaming with the right internal champion can turn an initial 50-seat sale into an enterprise-wide deal.

1:1 is the Ideal Executive Ratio

Too many and there's no way to support them. Too few and you don't have enough feedback to improve your product/service nor investor references to continue building. Lighthouse accounts should be the best example use cases of your software or service, making them the most strategic to your company. That’s why each lighthouse account must have a company executive sponsor, leading the relationship to greater success. The ideal ratio for lighthouse accounts is one executive from your company to each lighthouse customer organization. That basically means if you have five execs in your company including the CEO, you can handle five total lighthouse accounts.

Embrace Change

It doesn't have to be the end of either business if a lighthouse customer relationship dwindles. Change is constant. Some companies advance faster than others and timing is everything. Should the bright light of one customer begin to fade, be sure to replace it with another. This goes for both startups and global Fortune 100 companies. There should never be a time when employees don't know the name of your company's lighthouse customers.

Lighthouse accounts help companies of all sizes, across industries, safely navigate forward. They keep teams innovative and competitive. Who are your company's lighthouse customers? It's important for you and everyone else in your business to know.

About Kris Duggan

Kris Duggan is an entrepreneur, advisor, investor, and educator. He's advised and invested in a variety of Silicon Valley-based companies, including Palantir Technologies, RelateIQ (acquired by, Addepar, Blend Labs, Turo, and Gusto. He co-founded and was the founding CEO of Badgeville and BetterWorks before co-founding a new technology company, based in Palo Alto, CA, this year. Kris is the Chief Sales Mentor at the Alchemist Accelerator. He previously served as an Adjunct Faculty for Singularity University, and is a frequent speaker on the topics of scaling startups, customer loyalty, gamification, employee engagement, and performance management.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley—including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.