Are you blessed with a special customer?
Special customers are the ones who represent a significant chunk of your revenue. Some also have names so prestigious that, initially at least, you are practically willing to serve them for free just to be able to claim them as customers.
When you land one, it is exciting. It’s like having a fairy godmother. You feel like you are suddenly on the road to big things.
Fast forward a year or two. Now that special customer has got you jumping. You appreciate the revenue, but your people are running ragged. You are afraid to staff up because you’ve got so many eggs in one basket and you aren’t even sure it is a profitable basket. Changes are tough, though; you simply can’t risk losing the cash cow with the big name.
You are not alone. I’ve worked with companies well on their way to a billion dollars of revenue who were still letting a handful of customers yank them around. Meanwhile, their employees suffer. “Regular” customers also suffer. Most important of all, the company struggles to make decisions and investments because they are too dependent on the decisions of these few customers.
When one or two customers are driving your bus, it is time to step back and take a good hard look at where you are and what you want to be as a company.
First, you can’t build a business around a few exceptions. (Not unless you make that your business, are generating nice profits, and totally expect to fold when those few customers drop you.)
You need to determine whether your special customer is your ideal customer:
- Is this customer the type of customer you really want?
- Are the services you are providing them aligned with your passion, ambition, interests, and capabilities?
- Are there others like them you could reasonably expect to serve?
- Can you do it profitably?
If you answered yes to all four question, then you need to get busy and:
- Find and pursue that market
- Establish a win-win model for customer relationships
- Figure out how to organize your company to serve them really well and profitably
In short, you have to make them the norm, not the exception that feeds you, handcuffs you, and leaves you with a boat load of risk.
If you could not answer yes to those four questions, you’ve got to determine what business you want to be in. Who is your ideal customer? How will you pursue them and deliver profitably? And when will you be ready to lose that special customer if it doesn’t fit with your chosen direction?
These are not easy decisions. But they are essential.
Once you attain strategic clarity, you can take control of your future, rather than being a pawn in the plans of special customers. Decisions will be easier, your employees will be happier and more committed, and the risks you take will be intentional, not specters you repeatedly stuff in the closet so employees can focus and you can try to get a good night’s sleep.