We cannot survive without customers. So why then have 3 different business owners in the last week told me they wish they could fire some of their customers? Because there IS such a thing as a bad customer.
In my experience, there are 5 types of customers:
1. THE CHAMPION
No one breaks into a new account without a Champion. You try multiple ways to get into an account and FINALLY, one day you pique someone's interest and they give you a shot. THAT is your Champion. If you do a good job, they pass your name around, introduce you to colleagues and you are in that account. I can pinpoint my Champion at absolutely every major corporation I ever called on, and am still LinkedIn to those people today, whether or not we have worked together in the last 10+ years. Take good care of your Champion. They'll take you along when they change companies and will be happy to refer you when they hear of anyone that can use your product or service. Let them know you appreciate them.
2. THE USER
For every Champion, there is a User. This is the one who will be very friendly, attend your events, go to lunch, request and accept your samples, ask you for ideas, hand your ideas to your competitor and NEVER buy anything from you. The problem with Users is that it takes a long time to figure out whether they are a real customer and you just haven't hit the right options for them yet, or whether they're a User who will continue taking advantage of you.
3. THE POSER
Generalizations are dangerous, but I have yet to meet a female poser - in my experience, they are exclusively male. This is a customer that either has an inflated view of his influence, or wants you to THINK he's more influential than he is. He will throw his weight around, demand things of you that either cross the line or are too close to the line for comfort, act like he's in complete charge of your fate but will go completely limp when you need political help later. Like the User, it can take awhile to discern whether the Poser really has the juice he pretends to have; try small tests first to see if he will be able to help when you need him.
4. HIGH MAINTENANCE
Without exception, every time someone tells me they'd like to fire a customer, they are describing a high-maintenance client. This is not a client who simply demands perfection (who doesn't?); this is the client who changes their mind after it's too late, doesn't want to pay for expensive changes, blames you when they don't like the product delivered exactly as ordered, doesn't pay bills on time, insists upon discounts from the agreed-upon price, is late for appointments or cancels at the last minute and generally doesn't respect your time. These are very expensive clients; the minute you can fire one of these - do it and don't look back.
5. VALUED CLIENT
Thankfully, the majority of customers! These are people who expect great things from you, know that you'll deliver as promised (or more than promised), trust you to meet deadlines, look forward to great ideas and especially, expect you to solve their problems. If you are a good supplier, they will reward you with their business. This is the basis for most B2B relationships, and the lifeblood of most businesses. You trust each other and many of these clients become friends.
Most of my clients were in Sales and Marketing, so they had their share of experience with Users, Posers and High Maintenance clients in their own businesses as well. Hopefully exposure to these people make us all better customers.
Thank you to my Champions and the many Valued Clients that I've enjoyed working with over the years!