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Search for the 'Right Customers'

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  • | 6:00 p.m. March 5, 2004
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Search for the 'Right Customers'

Not all customers are created equal. Some are pushy and difficult. Choose ones you know you can satisfy.

Whether you realize it or not, you're screening potential customers every time you see, talk with, or meet a first-time prospect. It's the natural selection process that is involved in the hunt, the chase, the capture and the close.

In the process, you run the data instantaneously through your subconscious screening network. Your mind gives you a radar-like futuristic snapshot of just how well the selling process will go.

Imagine for a moment, your office telephone rings in response to your firm's advertising campaign in the Gulf Coast Business Review. The caller tells you he read your ad and has a specific interest. The caller is well mannered, articulate, and pleasant and seems in need of your special service. He also mentions he was referred through a neighbor and upon hearing the name, a warm smile crosses your face.

Within seconds, you've decided this is a good call. This is a prospect you would enjoy developing and if other factors seem favorable, this is someone with whom you might like to form a long-term business relationship. Great. Here is a new customer in the making. He's a keeper!

Ten minutes later, a second prospect calls. This time he saw your ad in the Yellow Pages and states he's calling everyone in your category to submit a proposal by the end of the week for his committee's review. He asks about your credentials during the conversation and is curt and ill mannered. He tells you he's never worked well with people in your profession and speaks negatively by name about a specific competitor.

Within seconds, you take an immediate dislike to the caller. Maintaining your dignity, you take a stance. You quickly make an excuse that you would like to be of service but your office is busy right now with established, repeat customers and you would not want to disappoint by missing his early (inhuman) deadline. You will reluctantly pass on this opportunity and hope to be included in his search (rat race) another time.

Turn on your radar

This personal radar is a good thing. It is part of your own discerning personality. It instinctively singles out the kind of people with whom you are most likely to build an immediate rapport and possible long-term relationships. Simultaneously, you screen out those who are likely to become "problem accounts" if indeed you can even get them to legitimate customer status.

For many Gulf Coast entrepreneurs, the concept of choosing your client or customer may be totally foreign, especially during an economic downturn. In today's competitive climate shouldn't we take all the business we can get?

Admittedly, the examples are in the extreme. The situations, however, are valid and certainly indicative of the initial range of inquiry that guides the activity of service professionals.

Imagine being an attorney, Realtor, mortgage broker, graphics firm owner, architect, custom homebuilder or other consultive marketer. Then imagine these types of negative encounters on even a limited, yet periodic basis. They can really implode an otherwise relatively stress free, clean and productive mental time sheet. You don't always have to run! Enter races you have a fair chance of winning.

Drive a two-way street

Assuming you are indeed a consultative professional engaged in a specialized service category, the selection process should not be one way. To assure maximum client satisfaction down the road, this selection process should be a two-way street. Just as a client chooses you, you must also choose clients that will work for you. Look at each potential customer carefully.

Analyze their needs, wants, personality, buying power, history, time lines, project sincerity and your ability to close. Then decide.

Choosing the right customers can eliminate 80% of problems before they occur and make your time more productive and stress free.

If you don't enjoy relating with clients as much as you used to, and if your client relationships aren't much fun anymore, consider a little bit of introspection.

Review your service, delivery, product quality, passion, pricing and brand personality. Then, focus in on one of the most powerful strategies for assuring good customer relationships that are both lasting and profitable: choosing the right customers in the first place.

Lou Lasday, an independent marketing advisor who resides on Longboat Key, creates action-oriented strategic corporate initiatives for emerging companies. A career direct response executive, he has been a general partner of a national advertising agency and regional president of the American Marketing Association.


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