Small Business

Lose Customers the Easy Way


Never forget, your best customer is also your competitors' best prospective customer. Sometimes it's helpful to scare yourself imagining the unthinkable -- blowing it and losing out to the competition -- to keep you on track and push you to find new ways to keep your best customer happy. If you haven't already seen the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, imagine the plot. Yep, it's pretty much what you thought. Now compress 10 days into one workday and drop yourself into the following mental exercise:

You oversleep by half an hour. Darn, it's only Tuesday. You still have at least two days to work this week. You're also hung over from drinking shots with the guys last night into the wee hours. Since you don't have time for a shower, you just pull on yesterday's clothes and sprinkle water on your hair so it looks like you've just taken a shower.

You notice a coffee stain on your lapel but don't have time to change. You splash on some cologne, swallow a bit of toothpaste (so folks will think you brushed your teeth), and head out the door.

SMOOTH OPERATOR. You open the door of your dirty car and push aside the wrappers from your last few visits to fast-food restaurants. You try to open the passenger window to air out the stink until you remember that it's been stuck closed for several months.

You head to the office of your best customer, Brian. Your car is low on gas, but luckily, you just make it. You're not so lucky when you walk through the door. Brian's secretary reminds you that you're 10 minutes late for your weekly meeting. Then you remember that this is the week you had promised to bring him the new pricing sheets so you could discuss his order for the upcoming six months.

You had planned to swing by your office to pick them up, but it slipped your mind. So you ask Brian's secretary for her fax number and then call your office administrator and beg him to fax the sheets over. You decide to flirt with the secretary to smooth the way. "My, you sure look nice today. We ought to go out for a night on the town sometime. I bet we would have a really fun time," you say.

CUSS WORDS. You quickly learn she's devoutly religious and highly offended. She tells you her fax machine is tied up and gives you the number for a machine on the far side of the building. You later find out it's low on toner and prints one page every two minutes.

You don't fare much better with your own administrator. He found out that you didn't contribute to his holiday bonus fund last year, and he's still miffed. He tells you he's really busy and he'll fax the sheets just as soon as he can.

You call your sales manager for support and learn that the pricing sheets that used to be two pages are now 10 pages, printed front and back on heavy, high-gloss paper. The sheets will have to be cut before they can be fed into the fax machine. You throw a tantrum with your manager, complete with cuss words and threats of quitting.

VIOLENT IMPULSES. He hangs up on you before you even hit full storm. You realize Brian's secretary is standing right behind you, waiting to tell you that Brian can only see you for 10 minutes today -- and that was six minutes ago.

You run to his office, without the new pricing sheets. When you step through his door, you see a thick, great-looking proposal on his desk from your major competitor. You've been his sole supplier for four years.

Your pricing sheets still haven't arrived. Without thinking, you say, "How about that football game last Sunday? Our team really murdered them!" Then you remember Brian hates all organized sports because he spends his free time promoting nonviolent solutions to achieving peace on Earth. You spend three minutes digging yourself out of that ditch.

Panic sets in. You point to your competitor's sales literature and say, snarling, "What's that piece of trash doing on your desk?" Since Brian has to leave for his next meeting, he smiles serenely and says, "Oh, you know."

TANTRUM TWO. When he asks you about your promised pricing lists, you stammer and clear your throat. "I know I promised them to you at our last meeting, Brian, and this time I really tried. But our printer was running behind again, and then someone forgot to give me your sheets. I'll bring them next week, I promise."

As you slink out his door, his secretary cheerfully tells you that your fax has arrived. Maybe you can leave it in Brian's inbox. When you finally locate the fax, that idea fades because you realize the pages are smudgy and that page two, with the summary of key benefits, is missing. As you pass his secretary on the way out the building, you're in the throes of a second tantrum.

Since you skipped breakfast, you head to lunch early. Your car runs out of gas on the way to the restaurant. You walk a mile to the gas station and spend $25 for a gas can.

JUST REWARDS. In the parking lot of the restaurant, you meet someone who's starting a new business that could use a lot of what you sell. Unfortunately, you don't have any business cards on you.

You find an old napkin in your car and write your information on it. When you hand it to her, she hesitates before taking it. You're confident she'll buy a lot from you so you celebrate by taking off the rest of the day.

Recognize yourself in this story? I hope you don't. But perhaps it made you think how you could strengthen your relationships with your customers. Happy selling!


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