But it’s time to get clear on an inconvenient truth: the customer isn’t always right, and we do them and ourselves a disservice when we pretend otherwise. As I keep hearing from my friend Mitchell Beer, newly-minted social media strategist, “just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.”
I know, I know—as a former hotel director of sales & marketing, I had the same training, and come out of the same tradition. And of course we all want satisfied customers. So it took me several years as a business owner to realize that over-pleasing can be harmful, diluting your staff resources, and ruining your business reputation when you still fail to meet expectations. And it may not even help the client, if the whole exercise ends up delaying their search for the vendor that can really meet their specific need.
A couple of recent experiences brought home the importance of either turning down business, or telling the client they aren't right, and convincing them to change their minds:
- A referral from outside the hospitality and association space needed lead generation, but as our conversation progressed, I realized this new prospect wanted to buy professional services like one buys widgets: he was intensely interested in our cost per contact, connect rate, and average time between calls, not so much in the human connections that build client relationships over the phone. After five months, and three quotes, the client said he had gone into “cost-cutting mode”. I’m just as happy to see him save his money, because this wasn’t a fit for either of us.
- We reached a much happier conclusion with a Canadian convention and visitors bureau that needed last-minute help with an out-of-province sales mission. They had no contact list to speak of, and not enough time to develop one, so we would have been reduced to cold calling meeting planners to see if had time to meet—exactly the buckshot approach we advise against. Instead, we organized an education session that earned rave reviews from the 18 planners who participated, building deeper business relationships that will continue to grow.
- Know your strengths. Be clear on what you’ll do for a client, and don’t offer services that you can’t or would prefer not to deliver. We all have times when we have to fill a gap in the calendar by taking a less-than-optimal piece of business, but you can solve or minimize that problem if you…
- Make sure you have enough opportunities in your funnel, so that you’re never forced to grab the only one in sight.
- Beware of tire-kickers. We use our Perfect Customer Questionnaire to help our new clients and prospects sort out their own targeting. But by filling it out themselves, they also connect with our process and begin to think of our relationship as a two-way street.
- Follow your gut. If the project doesn’t feel right, don’t take it. (And if you feel you don’t have a choice…go back to #1 and start this list over!)