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Every Client a King
Q: I design specialty promotional products, and I have a whole mess of clients. Some are tiny; others are humongous corporations. The problem is, the little guys demand as much attention as the giants -- and I don't have time to attend to them all. I'd like all of them to feel important, but some are more important than others. Any suggestions?
-- Looking to Please 'Em All in Louisiana
A: Suggestions? All I have are suggestions! Anyway, I'm glad you asked. Here are five to begin with, Mr. Looking to Please 'Em All.
1. Change your attitude -- immediately -- by developing a broader, long-term perspective. Your smaller clients cheese you off because you can't see beyond their latest purchase order. Open your eyes: one of those puny clients could lead to the biggest deal of your life. Maybe Sally Small Business' husband runs a Fortune 500 company. Maybe she tells him over dinner, "You know, honey, you should buy wacky customized t-shirts for every one of your 384,000 employees. And, hey, I know this great promotional products guy..."
You never know.
Also, small clients don't always stay small. They can expand or be bought by larger businesses. Truth is, every client has the potential to become one of your biggest clients. Ignore that potential at your peril.
2. Watch your phone manners. Don't use call waiting when talking to clients. Simple as that. Do yourself -- and your clients -- a favor: invest in voice mail. It's a much more professional way to deal with multiple client phone calls.
OK, take it easy. I know some of you are too frugal to spring for voice mail or too stubborn to give up the little beeps. So for you, here's some less drastic -- but still helpful -- advice. If you must keep the line open, and one of your least favorite clients calls, begin the conversation by saying something like: "I'm glad to talk with you now, but I'm expecting an emergency call. If my call waiting beeps, I'll have to get off immediately. Sorry about that." Then, when your call waiting goes off, tell the client you'll call back as soon as possible. Never say who's on the other line, or explain why that person rates higher on the "Important Client" rating scale.
3. Never complain to one client about another. Say you're getting cozy with one of your big clients, crossing the line into friendship. It would be tempting to bitch and moan about that annoying little jerk of a client over a cup of espresso. Don't. Spill your guts to a friend, a spouse, or a shrink -- but never to another client. Your espresso-filled pal may nod and grin at the story, but he'll surely be thinking, "What if he's talking to other clients about our business?" Don't let your guard down on this one, even if you strike up a friendly relationship with a client. It will only come back to smack you.
4. Yes, of course, go above and beyond for the big boys, but treat all your clients well. How? Devise a baseline of customer services that you'll provide to all your clients (sorry, but you'll have to figure this out for yourself). Don't accept a client's business if you can't offer them at least that. Then, create more exceptional ways to express your gratitude for the most profitable customers.
Like discounts on your rates, a faster turn-around time, or maybe even some snazzy promotional products (what the hell -- you're in the business!). Reward your highest-paying customers without making your lower-paying customers feel like losers.
5. You want an easy way to prevent the situation in the future? Figure out which customers you don't want -- and don't take their business. If you get a small order from a customer that you really don't want to handle, say, "I'm sorry, we don't handle promotional orders under $500. I know someone who can help you though..."
Funnel the job to someone who prefers to deal in smaller orders. Who knows? Maybe she'll send you the large orders she doesn't feel equipped to handle.
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