Hi Professional Innovation catalyst Toni Newman here and welcome to another episode of the Innovation Advantage podcast series. Podcasts that are dedicated to showing you how to use innovation and customer experience to drive more customers, more revenue and more growth in your business.
But when I sat down to think about today’s show, I realized that I wanted to talk about something outside the scope of just innovation. I want to talk about something that I believe is a deep, dark secret for many of us and that is how we really feel about some of our customers or clients.
Something that we would never actually say out loud because … well… what would other people think?
After all… we run a business.
And businesses need customers.
And that means that all customers are good customers, right?
But truth be told… that’s not always the case. And our deep dark secret is that most of us have or have had – at least one customer where we would just love look that client in the eye and utter the 2 little words made famous by he who shall remain nameless – You’re Fired!
I’m sure most of you have been there. I definteily have. So fed up. So realizing that most of the profit that we were supposed to make with this client is quickly going up in smoke because the client is just one of those clients where everything just seems so complicated. And we get to a point where enough is enough.
But then there’s that little thing called a reality check. The voice inside of us that says that firing clients isn’t exactly good for business.
But you know what? I don’t agree. Not only do I think that firing clients can be good for business. I think letting go of clients can be essential for your business.
And even though I do believe that busiensses need to innovate 2 differentiate if they want to stand out in today’s crazy marketplace, I also believe that No amount of value creation, innovation or differentiation will make any difference if you allow the wolf – or even worse the wolves – into your customer henhouse. The hens being those ideal customers who are a perfect fit for your business and the wolf or wolves being those one or two customers who can, unfortunately, bring the entire henhouse crashing down around you.
So today I’m going to share 5 situations where in my experience, not only is it okay to fire a client … firing that client is essential to the long-term survival of your business.
Five situations where the best thing to do is Just say no, and let ‘em go.
Situation #1: When working with the client is a no-win situation.
You know who I’m talking about. Customers where no matter what you do, you will never be able to make them happy. Customers whose expectations are so high that they can simply never be met. Customers who seem to thrive on creating problems and for whom the words ‘high maintenance’ don’t even begin to tell the tale. Sound familiar?
And even when the little voice inside of our head screams ‘This doesn’t feel right. Walk away now.”, many of us don’t walk away.
Because more often than not these no- win clients are more than able to pay for your products or services. And it’s hard to walk away from the revenue just because the little voice inside of your head is having a bad day…
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take on any difficult clients. Difficult clients are part of running a business and running a business is difficult. What I’m saying is that unreasonably difficult clients can be bad for business. Because there’s a big difference between a client whose expectations are completely justified and a client who is just never satisfied.
The energy that it takes to keep these no-win clients happy is simply not worth your time and the damage that an unhappy client can do to your business both during and after the customer relationship is simply not worth the money. I’ve had a couple of customers like this over the years and the only good that has come from it is that now, I know exactly which customers I need to avoid.
So… When working with a client is clearly a no win situation, just say no and let ‘em go.
Situation #2: When working with the client simply won’t be profitable.
Now, this is a tricky one because it totally depends upon your definition of profitable. For example, what might be considered profitable in the early years of your business may be different from what profitable means 5, 10 or even 15 years down the road. Perhaps your definition of profitability is more focused on profit margins and the net/net bottom line. Or perhaps you include softer measurements like exposure, referrals, test cases or any other mix of bonuses that can be considered a win for your business.
The key is to make sure that you know what your definition of profitable is for this customer and this mandate so that you can stay in control of the negotiating process. Remember to honor the value of your products or services because if you agree to a bad deal, that’s not the client’s fault. It’s yours.
And if you regret making the deal, it’s not good for you and it’s not good for your client.
In fact, we had an experience several years ago where we made what we thought was a very fair deal with a supplier. It became clear as time went on, however, that the vendor no longer felt that the deal was ‘profitable’. They never actually said anything but their regret and disappointment permeated how we were treated for the remainder of the contract. To this day, I’m not even sure that they were aware of what they did but we have certainly never forgotten how we felt. And needless to say, we have never referred them to anyone else.
So when working with a client simply won’t be profitable, Just say no and let ‘em go.
Situation #3 : When taking the business would water down your brand story.
This situation is more about the type of mandate that a client could propose as opposed to the actual client. And if you are in the early years of your business, brand integrity may not be on your list of priorities. Bottom line? If you need to pay the mortgage, feed your family or send your children to school, take the business and bring home the bacon.
However, if you’ve invested years in your brand’s positioning, taking business that is outside of the brand story can actually backfire.
I often say that your brand story is like an expensive bottle of wine and that every time you do something that steps outside of that brand story, it’s as if you had poured water in that priceless bottle of wine. (Ugh. I shudder at the thought.)
I have spent years developing a positioning as a customer experience innovation expert. It is all that I do. And although it covers a pretty broad spectrum of products and services, I simply don’t accept clients whose mandates don’t fit comfortably within that expertise.
If tomorrow someone asked me to do a session on team-work, managing stress or economic trends, it’s not that I couldn’t do it. It’s that to accept the mandate would mean pouring water into a very expensive bottle of wine that has been carefully conserved in my wine cellar at just the right temperature and in just the right conditions for years. So taking that mandate would mean that before long, I’ll be pouring my cherished bottle of wine right down the drain.
Of course, there could be a good strategic reason for taking work outside of your brand – perhaps, for example, it is an area that you are looking to move into. Or perhaps taking that business is the key to opening the door to a mandate that is in your wheel house.
But for the most part, when taking the business could water down your brand story, just say no and let ‘em go.
Situation #4 : When taking the business means you can’t be authentically you.
Years ago we worked with a successful young entrepreneur who for the purposes of this article we will call Pam. Pam attended one of our full day Attract, Keep and Engage More Customers More Often workshops and as we chatted together, Pam explained that her small business was part of industry that was undeniably traditional and conservative.
The authentic Pam, however, was neither traditional nor conservative and yet she had spent years trying to fit in. Keeping her authentic self – and therefore he businesses authentic self – well hidden from the customers who drove her revenue and paid her bills.
It wasn’t that Pam’s business wasn’t doing well because it was, bringing in well over one million dollars in sales annually. But Pam herself was miserable.
She didn’t like her customers.
She didn’t like the work that she was doing for her customers.
And she definitely didn’t like running the business.
She was tired, exhausted and ready to give up.
I am happy to report, however, that Pam left our session with renewed energy and renewed clarity. In the few short weeks that followed she transformed her business in ways that put the authentic Pam (and therefore the authentic Pam’s business) out there for everyone to see.
And did she lose some clients? Absolutely
But she gained a whole host of ideal customers to replace them. Because you see, letting go leaves room for letting in. And as long as you hold on to the wolves that are taking up space in your hen-house, there won’t be room for any more hens.
Within the first 6 months, Pam had used her new found authenticity and the innovative tools that she had learned in the workshop and to drive an increase of 37% in sales. And a few years later, she sold her business for a ton of cash and moved to live her dream life in California. All things which never would have happened had she continued to play small and to settle for customers with whom she couldn’t be her authentic self.
So when taking the business means you can’t be authentically you, just say no and let ‘em go.
Situation #5: When for whatever reason, you simply don’t want to work with that client.
I think that as business owners we struggle with the fact that we have a right to just say no based on our gut. For example, I once attended a meeting with a great prospect at their offices. I met the senior leaders of the organization and got a chance to experience how they interacted not only with each other, but with other team members. I was shocked. The lack of respect and consideration was palpable. And although the meeting went well and they were anxious to go ahead with the contract, I said no.
I said no because of what I had witnessed during that meeting, not only because of how they treated their staff but because of how they talked about their staff and their clients behind their backs.
I said no because my gut was screaming that their values and ours were not a good match and so I walked away from a very substantial piece of business and I never looked back.
Your gut could be screaming for many different reasons.
It could be a question of values – like in the story above.
It could be a question of industry (I have turned down business in industries that I cannot support or industries that support things that I can’t support);
It could be a question of integrity (For example, I have turned down business from clients who wished to bypass the agent who gave them my name in the first place)
But listen to your gut you must.
Because when for whatever reason, you simply don’t want to work with that client, just say no and let ‘em go!
You see, here’s the real kicker about taking business in any one of these 5 situations. Bad clients are like rabbits. They make babies. Lots of them. The client you gave the deal of a lifetime tells their colleagues and they want the same deal. The client in the industry that you don’t support tell his friends in the same industry and they want to work with you too. The client that hired you to do something that waters down your brand sends you more clients with more work that waters down your brand. You get the idea?
Bottom line? Whether it’s the clients you have or the clients that you could have, if working with the client
- is a no-win situation.
- won’t be profitable,
- will water down your brand story,.
- will keep you from being authentically you,.
- For whatever reason, you simply don’t want to work with the client..
just say no and let ‘em go!
Can you think of other situations where we should just say no and let ‘em go? As always we would love to hear from you so why not share your thoughts in the comment section below
And speaking of sharing . If you found value in this podcast, please leave a comment below and make sure to share it with your colleagues. Because the more we share, the more we learn and the more we learn, the more we grow.
Of course, you can also visit our website at www.toninewman.com – check out our Innovation Advantage blog where you’ll find lots of other innovation and customer experience resources that can help you grow your business. And while you’re there, why not sign up to become an Innovation Advantage Insider and received our exclusive offers, insights and opportunities that we only send to our Innovation Advantage Insiders family.
This has been Professional Innovation Catalyst Toni Newman with another episode of the Innovation Advantage Podcast series
I look forward to chatting with again soon but in the meantime, Just say No and Imagine the Possibilities!