Much earlier in my career, I reported on the job-shop metalcasting business. When low-cost foreign producers suddenly arrived on the scene, and the “purchasing warrior” concept was gaining steam, we published stories on the idea of “firing” customers/jobs to work only on the select one on which a foundry’s production lines could sustainably compete. Because immediately investing capital in a different type of molding/pouring line wasn’t a possibility for most, they had to refocus and run only the work that was truly in the redefined “sweet spot” for their lines.

The limiting factor in your business, I realize, is time. So if time isn’t an endless commodity, and there’s an opportunity cost on every minute spent, you can’t afford to pursue the wrong type of customer.

Give one up to the competition. That disrupter-type customer is more valuable to have in your competitor’s camp than your own. Let brand X deal with that customer and give up their time, energy and mental strain.

In tough times like we’d had recently, and when market shares are drilled so loudly into your eardrums, you can be tempted to change what you’re doing to broaden the net you can cast. That is, to be more things to more people; to put your line in a new fishing hole where you hope you can win the conquest or brand conversion sale (another theme of the majors).

“If only you guys will add so-and-so to our products and services, and/or change what we’re doing in <insert department here> we can attract more of those customers we’re not getting today,” sales will say. “I can land them if only we do X.”

But not every customer’s dollars are as green as the next.

Some customers, even when they say they’re ready to write the check, aren’t the right fit.

This is a real conversation in our offices. We’ve been fortunate to gain expertise in new areas and also made major investments in data that will allow new services, including what some of our “white whales” tell our sales team they’ll gladly write checks for.

New services with high demand plus a shot to hook some companies barely showing up on our A/R. Sounds great, right?

Well, not so fast. We know that despite all our Beta testing that there’ll be unforeseen hiccups and lessons that can only be learned by doing it in the trenches with a real-world customer. We are going to choose our customers wisely, even if a smaller pool of candidates slows us down a little bit. Mutual accessibility, information exchange and trust are pre-requisites for this type of work, and probably should be for 80% of anything we do.

When you look at each of your Top 25 Conquest Prospects, does your CRM reveal profiles like these?

1. Dialog is never about anything but price; they aren’t interested in hearing about how value can be earned by knowledge or uptime.

2. Constant quote collectors. They’re known to go from dealership to dealership for pricing information, eager to tell you what all the other stores have promised him to get you to beat it.

3. Generally non-communicative; they don’t willingly share needs, nor an honest assessment about how your product/service is performing.

4. They’re a “code-redder;” that is, instead of picking up the phone at the first signs of difficulty, you hear only when things hit crisis mode and “on fire urgent.” And then they insist in loud voice that you drop everything to fix them, regardless of who or what is in front of them.

5. Chronic naysayers. The ones who are known to be remarkably skilled in complaining at the coffee shop, the co-op or on social media.

6. What else am I missing?

These characteristics indicate you’ll get some “baggage” for free with any new order. Plus, there’s a reason many are not on your customer list already. They’re often ones with unrealistic expectations. Can be rude and abusive to your staff. They tie up your resources and attention as you try to make things right.  Oh, and aren’t these the ones who don’t like to pay on time.

They’re the one-night stand of sales. The conquest sale might feel good initially, but the walk of shame is likely to come at some point. Because if they want to look for a reason not to do business with you, they’ll find it.

I’ve sat in sales meetings where we’ve gone on about reasons certain companies who don’t give us their business. And I’ve seen in some acquisition opportunities where white whales are showing up on the seller’s account list. We could buy our way into some of those relationships, but it’s not worth it if we can’t keep them.

Maybe we should all turn the lens over if the only customer we want is the one we can keep.

  • Focus on what you are as a business, without apology for what you are not.
  • It’s OK to politely say no. You can explain that your infrastructure and service comes at a cost, and it’s not set up to meet every varying need of every customer.
  • Give one up to the competition. That disrupter-type customer is more valuable to have in your competitor’s camp than your own. Let brand X deal with that customer and give up their time, energy and mental strain.
  • That said, some will come your way after they’ve exhausted all other rival dealerships, at which time their expectations have been tempered. Allow that important education to occur.

Instead, we should put more time into developing and retaining the “partnering types” of relationships. The customers who don’t behave like they don’t need you. Who will lay the cards down and ask for your help in solving a problem. The ones who know your team by name. These are the customers we can blaze new ground with, confidently knowing there’s no problem that can’t be overcome together.

We should go to bat with those customers all day long. Those are the cases where you can feel OK about going extra effort on a deal, knowing you’ll make it back many times over in knowledge, trust and the golden rule.