7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 6: Focus All Your Attention on your TOP clients

Focus on your top clients

One would think this lesson should be a given.  There should be no need to write about.  It should be a no-brainer. Take care of my TOP clients.  Duh!  Unfortunately, this was not the reality at times for me, or for most IT providers or entrepreneurs.  Let me explain.

“The customer is always right.”  We’ve all heard this expression.  This is one of the biggest fallacies in business.  Think about it for a minute.  What would that actually mean for you if it were true?  If the customer (i.e. everyone who wants to do business with you) is always right, how can you possibly serve them all well?  You might be able to keep some of them happy, but when you try to cater to everyone, you just end up being stretched too thin.  I speak from experience here.  I exhausted myself trying to keep everyone happy.  I ended up making mistakes and letting people down.   No matter how good my intentions were, no matter how determined to make good on my promises, I was overextended at times.  Overextended entrepreneurs inevitably drop the ball.  This was unacceptable for me and my clients.  Fortunately, I didn’t lose any of my top clients, but it served as a wake-up call for me.

Back in Lesson 3, I mentioned the Pumpkin Plan book by Mike Michalowicz.  (If you haven’t picked it up, I highly recommend it.)  In Chapter 7 of the book, “Play Favorites and Break Rules”, Mike wrote that playing favorites is simply good business, and is mandatory for your success.  “Your mission is to keep your top clients so happy you obliterate the possibility that they would ever leave you for the competition.”  That’s exactly what I wanted, and I think that’s how we all feel.

You probably have a few favorite clients, the people you’re always glad to see and hear from, the businesses you’ll bend over backwards to help because you actually like them, and want to do a good job for them.  (Go figure)  I did too.  I had clients that I would go to the ends of the earth for.  It didn’t matter what time of day, or day of the week, I was on it.  They always went to the front of the line.

As entrepreneurs, we want to be nice people.  Sometimes we are too nice at our own expense.  We feel guilty giving preferential treatment.  My parents taught me to play fair.  Let’s get real.  Life isn’t fair.  That’s part of the reason you’re an entrepreneur.  You get to make the rules.

Playing favorites is nothing to feel guilty about.  (I can say that with straight face because I was my dad’s favorite out of six kids.  Love you pop!)  Playing favorites is a winning strategy because your top clients are your favorite clients, and they need special treatment.  How else are they going to feel special?

At times however, I found that some rotten clients were eating up the needed time and energy to focus on our top clients.  I needed to fix that.

After going through the process of defining our Rules of Engagement (Mike calls them Immutable Laws) and completing the Assessment Chart, I now had a pretty good idea of who our top clients were, and what they had in common.  I went through the process of Firing the Rotten Clients, and only our TOP clients remained.  Phew!

Next the fun started!  I now began to focus on taking care of the clients that made getting up in the morning pure joy.  I now had a different approach for our top clients.  We pushed them to the front of the line whenever they put in a service request.  It was kind of like the wristband you pay extra for at Kings Island or Cedar Point to go to the front of the line.  (Yeah, I loathe those people too when I’m standing in the 95 degree heat because I’m too cheap to pay the extra money.)  I was always looking for new and better ways to serve them.  I accommodated their special requests, and even made trips to the cell phone store so they wouldn’t have to.  Most importantly, I always went out of my way to help them grow their business.  I wanted to discover all the right things I could do for them so that I was significantly better than my competition could dream of being.

In the process of doing these things, I found that our top clients were a lot alike.  And, because they shared many of our Rules of Engagement, they were a lot like us.  It actually became easier to serve them.  I knew that I wanted more clients just like them so I could keep growing our top-client list, and that’s precisely what I did.  I stopped taking clients that didn’t fit our business, and focused all my time, effort and energy on our TOP clients.

“The customer is NOT always right, but…

The right customer IS always right.”  Thanks Mike!

It doesn’t take much more effort to have all your clients see you as their world-class de facto provider, and have raving fans for life.  I’d like to think I did something right over 10 years of running my IT business as most of our clients were with us nearly the whole decade.  That’s nearly unheard of in the IT industry.

You don’t need to create elaborate plans to take care of your top clients.  You simply need to be a little bit better, a little bit more helpful, and little bit more creative at solving their problems.  You need to be willing to do the things that others can’t or won’t do.  Don’t get stuck, just get started.

I’ll leave you with one final thought from Jim Rohn: “One customer, well taken care of, could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.”  Everyone thinks they need more clients, and they spend an inordinate amount of money to get new ones.  From what I’ve seen, the secret to long-term success is taking good care of the TOP clients you already have, and clone them.

My final lesson in this series #7: Run It Like You\’re Going To Sell It is coming up next week. I’ll be sharing a few tips I learned from the actual sale of my business.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  If you found it useful, please share with a friend or colleague.  Until next time….

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