Most companies’ biggest concern is finding – and keeping – clients and customers. This makes sense: Without customers, there’s nothing for businesses to do.
But what happens when you’re no longer worried about acquiring more business? What should you do when you have too much business, and too many customers, for your resources to handle? It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. How do you solve it?
One amusing way to frame the problem is through the scope of a break-up in a romantic relationship. Some of the same “rules” apply to breaking up with customers. After all, the relationship between a company and its customers is just that: a relationship. As we all know, relationships don’t always work out. Here are a few phrases that might ring true:
1. “You’re too needy.” Overly needy people aren’t just draining in the dating world. As clients, they can actually cost you a lot in time, energy, and productivity. Needy or unproductive clients are the ones who are rarely satisfied with a product or service, despite the quality; they’re the ones who will always find something wrong. The costs of working with someone like this can sometimes outweigh the benefits of even having him as a customer!
2. “It’s not you, it’s me.” When you realize you have a very unproductive, needy customer, realize that by letting him go, you can probably solve both your problem and your client’s. Chances are if a client is never satisfied with what you offer, it just isn’t “meant to be.” If he’s constantly acting dissatisfied, realize you’re probably not the best business for his needs. Let him find a business that better fits him, because it isn’t yours. (If you love them, set them free!)
3. “We can still be friends.” You don’t want to alienate a former or potential client by telling him the business equivalent of “this isn’t working,” and brushing him off. Just like at the end of a romantic relationship with someone you care a great deal for, treat the client with respect. Keep available a list of businesses that offer services similar to yours. When you’re dealing with a customer who’s costing you more than he’s worth, be prepared to offer him another option. Present it in a way that shows you’re looking out for his best interests – and not just turning him away.
4. “I’m out of your league.” Don’t be afraid to be selective! This will help you find your ideal clients and reach them more effectively. In other words, it’s more valuable to invest more time and energy in a few ideal clients than in several unproductive ones. First, though, determine who your ideal client base is. You can do this by looking at your current set of clients and asking some questions. “Who are our best clients? What beliefs/values/needs do they have?” This, along with practical factors, like the ability of the client to pay, will help you develop a set of criteria that you can use to determine your “A-list” clients. Once you have that A-list, maintain it by really focusing on those clients’ needs and how you can best meet them. Treat them like a significant other you’d like to keep!
5. “I know you want me.” When you need to let clients go because of resource limitations, you want to maintain an image of being in high demand, rather than sending the message that, well, you’re unable to expand as a company. How do you do that? Really, the best solution is to avoid the short-on-resources situation in the first place! It’s a very preventable issue. Take time to form the vision of where you want your company to go, and then implement strategies and plans so when an influx of business comes, you’ll be prepared to handle it. Sometimes, there really is enough love to go around.
Breaking up is hard to do, and the business world is no exception. Focus on the benefits that can be gained by letting go of an unproductive customer. Proceed with caution (don’t break any hearts!), and your relations with clients can stay positive – even if you have to move on.
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