We all have troublesome customers who take up much more of our time and energy than our other customers. However, we continue to spend an inordinate amount of time on their demands and continue to get aggravated at them (and try not to show it) when what we should do is fire them.

Why Not All Business is Good Business

Most of us will agree that not all business is good business. We all aspire to have customers we love and who love us. They pay their bills on time. They have appropriate expectations for our products and services. They consider us a partner and take our advice. They place large orders frequently.

If you were to make a list of your customers right now and sort them into categories: Great, Good, Not So Good, and Troublesome, what would your list look like? Which column would have the longest list?

Knowing that all business is not good business, why do we persist?

We all have troublesome customers who take up much more of our time and energy than our other customers. However, we continue to spend an inordinate amount of time on their demands and continue to get aggravated at them (and try not to show it) when what we should do is fire them.

In fact, we should give all of their contact information to our competitor and then coach our competitor on how to win their business. Okay, so we won’t go that far.

We have many excuses for not firing our customers. I mean, after all, they are paying their bills… or are they? They only call 5 times a day now when they used to call 10 times. They just placed another order; however, the discount they demanded will prevent us from making our margin.

Just imagine if you could fire your most troublesome customers and then use the time you were spending on them to nurture and grow your good and great customers. You could even use the time to go out and find new customers.

Win-win behavior is the crux of all good business, and anything else is very wearing. Most of your customers want to have win-win relationships with their vendors. Some may not know they are troublesome. Clearly explaining your concerns will very likely facilitate adjustments.

Most of your customers do not want to see you go out of business, and if you explain that, like them, you need to make a certain margin on your sales, they may be more understanding of the price you are charging.

Certainly the managers may not know that 5 calls a day from their staff to your office is too many. Maybe they could suggest to their staff that they list their questions and call once a day. There may be some problems you are unaware of which could be easily fixed. Communicating with them may help solve their problem, inadvertently solving yours.

Sounds great, but how do you do it?

  1. Make a list of the customers you would like to fire.
  2. Next to each customer, write down what they would have to do to move from your “want to fire list” to your “great customer” list.
  3. Figure out a way to communicate this information to the appropriate people at that company.
  4. Check with your manager to be sure your plan meets approval.
  5. Schedule a meeting with the appropriate people clearly stating that the purpose of the meeting is to improve your relationship and the service you provide.
  6. Communicate your concerns one at a time and ask your customers to help you come up with solutions.
  7. If you come up with solutions that are mutually agreed upon, get it in writing and be sure it is communicated to the proper channels. Now move this customer to your ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ customer list. If not, go to Step 8.
  8. If the customer doesn’t see your concerns as a problem and is not willing to make any changes, end the conversation by saying something like, “We appreciate your past business and are very sorry we will not be able to work together in the future. This is the last order we will complete and we wish you much success,” and, “Here is my competitors business card.” – just kidding.

Are You Going to Fire Your Customer?

Now that you know how to do it, what are you afraid of? Why aren’t you going to run right out and fire some customers? Afraid of losing your job? Afraid your manager will think you are crazy? Afraid your sales numbers will drop?

Obviously I can’t recommend firing customers at the risk of losing your job. But do consider this: Losing a job is better than losing your mind. Only you know whether it would be worth it or not.

If you mention firing some of your customers and your manager thinks you are crazy, give her this article and then schedule a meeting to discuss your current customers, quota and growth initiatives. Make the ‘Great’ through ‘Troublesome’ lists together. Determine a plan for each customer who ends up in the ‘Not So Good’ and ‘Troublesome’ columns.

If you are afraid your sales numbers will drop, remember you could have the time you take away from a troublesome customer to grow a ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ customer or find a new customer. Also, remember that your ‘Troublesome’ customer may turn into a ‘Great’ one with win-win communication.

Just be sure you have a good plan to approach each customer on the ‘Not So Good’ and ‘Troublesome’ lists. You may be pleasantly surprised, those customers may move over into the ‘Good’ or ‘Great’ column when you communicate your concerns clearly. And if they don’t, fire them!

About the author

Alice Heiman

Alice developed her expertise in sales while at Miller Heiman, Inc before striking out…

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