Column from Florida Trend's Business Coach
Problem accounts can cost us, both emotionally and in terms of profits. It’s tempting to tell certain customers to take a hike when we conclude that they are simply not worth keeping anymore.
All of us have had that idea fly through our minds. After all, getting rid of a pain in the neck customer will certainly feel good. In fact, it’s sort of liberating in a way!
Yet, does it ever make sense to fire a customer? Well, not until you get them -- and you -- on a performance improvement plan.
That wasn’t what you were thinking, was it? Firing a customer is the easy way out. It doesn’t get to the source of the problem and can actually cause you more pain -- from reduced cash flow to bad mouthing by the rejected account.
But, that’s only half the story. There’s a reason the mismatch happened -- and many times it can be traced to your company’s prospect profile. There are plenty of benefits to taking the time to correctly zero in on your perfect prospect. The biggest reason: you’ll avoid wasting time -- by not working with companies that don’t honor the value of what you are offering them.
Revisit your ideal customer profile before it’s too late. Your company is customer centric and so is your performance improvement plan. We all have different values -- when businesses and their prospect’s values intersect, it’s a beautiful thing. Work hard to review your best existing customers and their attributes, from purchase cycles to discounts and even personal characteristics. Which traits are common? Exactly why do they appreciate your company? Pinpoint what you enjoy about the relationship with them. Score each and build a profile. Now go find more companies and people like them that fit your profile and resist prospecting into companies that don’t. You are now on the way to reducing your future frustration quotient by 90%!
Set the tone and boundaries up front. You’ll reduce the chances of an underperforming customer situation with open and straightforward communications starting even before the sale is made. If you expect a prospect to be a good customer, tell them that. For instance you could say, “This a fair price and that will let us to provide you the level of service you need.” Continually communicate as the relationship builds with phone calls, emails, birthday cards, and education. Don’t be afraid to let them know when you need something adjusted -- including pricing, but tell them why up front. Keeping them in the loop like this will lessen the likelihood that they’ll start playing you off of a competitor for better pricing.
How to fire a problem customer. Choosing to fire a client is not an easy decision, yet sometimes it must be done. Let’s face it, some people are never satisfied and have unrealistic expectations. It’s usually these same customers who underperform for you and start costing your company profits. Before you fire them, first determine the problem and if the relationship is worth saving with a performance improvement plan. Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding that simply needs to be discussed -- if so, validate the customer’s concerns and then after talking about it, you might decide it’s not worth dumping them. On the other hand, when they act like they own you or they are single handedly shrinking your profit margin, then it’s probably time to say goodbye. When you do part ways, politely let them know why your company isn’t a good fit for them -- don’t over explain. And offer to introduce them to others that are a better match for their requirements. That will make for the best parting of the ways possible.
The process of firing a mismatched customer is not pleasant for either side and is to be avoided at all costs. Prevent problem accounts from happening in the first place by marketing and selling only to prospects that will value what you have. As Juliet said to Romeo, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Now that you’ve decided to let go, do it quickly and in a professional way.
Ron Stein is the founder and President of FastPath Marketing (www.marketing-strategies-guide.com). He has more than 20 years experience in sales, marketing, and business development, working positions ranging from salesman to vice president of sales and marketing to CEO of startups with industry leaders such as Motorola, VideoServer, Paradyne, and SercoNet. Ron is a member of the advisory team at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nationally recognized entrepreneurial and startup accelerator for the state of Florida. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or Ron@FastPathMarketing.com