Having a large customer the size of an 800-pound gorilla drives rapid revenue growth, but it also carries hidden dangers for your business.
Learn how to tame it.
The Phone Call You Never Get
The other day a client and I were discussing print vendors. Historically, the client had used one printer for their semi annual catalog project. My client, however, was new to her position as marketing director and wasn't convinced that the printer could provide the high-quality product she expected.
Fear of the Unknown
Pressing further, I learned that her hesitation wasn't due to any actual experience with the vendor. On the contrary - her reluctance was based solely on the impression made by the printer's outdated and poorly designed website. While others at her company could vouch for the printer's attention to detail, she worried (correctly) that choosing the wrong vendor could jeopardize her job. Since she had never worked with this vendor before, she was taking a risk by using their services.
Value beyond the short term
Ultimately my client did decide to work with the printer, but only after taking a tour of the facility and speaking with the account rep. Since then, she's run tens of thousands of dollars through the print shop, and will probably continue to use the vendor through her current job or even if she switches companies.
So what's the value of that relationship? To the printer, her continued business is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. As she move up in the corporate ladder and her responsibilities grow, it's possible her relationship with the printer could be worth millions of dollars. To the client, the printer provides a valuable resource through their service and dependability. Not having to worry about the quality of the product ensures that my client can focus on more important issues. It's a win-win relationship that should last for years.
Where it can all go wrong
But let's take a moment and step back to that critical point when my client was on the fence. Had she worked with another printer, or had she not been "sold" by the tour and account rep, her business would have gone elsewhere. The printer would have been out all the short term work, as well as all the potential future business. In short, had the client not taken a "risk," the printer would be out of luck.
How to Make it Right
So what could the printer - and businesses in general - do to better position themselves and eliminate the "risk" they are asking of their clients?
First and foremost, the printer should take a cold hard look at their #1 public presence: their website. While most businesses see their website as a necessity, many fail to grasp the fact that a poorly designed site can actually have a detrimental effect. While most of us assume our websites are generating business, many sites actually have the opposite effect. Instead of instilling confidence in our business, bad sites create fear and apprehension amongst potential clients.
The second thing the printer needs to do is examine his overall marketing strategy. Any time a client undergoes a change (say, hiring a new marketing director) there is both a risk and an opportunity. For the printer, he nearly missed the opportunity to demonstrate their superior service and quality product. Fortunately, this printer had a great account rep who instilled confidence. Other businesses may not be so lucky. Rather than waiting to react, businesses are well-served by taking action when their clients undergo a change. Reaching out in these times of change can be a great way to position your business as a trusted resource in challenging times.
The Wrap Up
I'll wrap this story up with one final take away. After finishing the project with the client, I had lunch with the account rep. I gave him the feedback from the client - that he did a great job and delivered on time and on budget. My client was extremely happy.
What I also told the printer was that this client had initially doubted his ability to meet their needs. I told him that their current website made the business look "small time" and outdated. While the client was eventually impressed with their facility and product, there was a real disconnect between their public presence and actual capabilities.
The rep, being a smart guy, took this feedback to the business owner. Sadly, rather than taking action, the owner "tabled" the topic of redesigning the site. Given that the last "news" item on the site is from 2004, I doubt they'll make a change.
The Phone Call You Never Get
As a business owner, I value every single lead that comes through the door. Not all clients are a great fit, but when every opportunity is valued.
Sadly, I simply can't know how many people consider using us but decide to work with someone else. More and more, potential clients use the web to "vet" a business. If the business looks less than perfect, or the alternatives are visually better, the client moves on. Clients never call to tell you why they didn't choose your business...they simply leave the phone on the hook.