I came across an article in The Providence Journal last month, when we were in Rhode Island for a family event. The article advised readers to identify their dating “deal-breakers” before jumping into the online dating world. The idea of “deal-breakers” came up again last week during a client coaching session, but this time I was discussing them in the context of customer relationships.
Through my own experience of growing two businesses from nothing, and from my conversations with hundreds of other business owners over two decades of entrepreneurship, I know that grabbing low-hanging fruit (customers that don’t ideally fit) to satisfy cash-flow requirements is VERY tempting. The fear of having no money, no customers, and no business can simultaneously paralyze us AND drive us to make bad decisions.
Narrowly and specifically defining your target customer is one of the seven secrets I identified in a recent column. The flip side of identifying your customer deal-breakers is equally important. Deal-breakers are very personal. For example, for a company that is bootstrapping, a customer that takes 60 days to pay may be a deal-breaker. However, for a company that is VC- or angel-backed and has a financial cushion, 60-day payment terms may be acceptable.
Just like your descriptions of your ideal customer should originate from your company’s core values, so should your deal-breakers. Taking on customers that may compel you to compromise your core value system is dangerous. Once you turn a blind eye to the ideals on which you have built your foundation, it’s difficult to stop the slide down that slippery slope.
When forming your deal-breakers, consider these back-to-basics factors:
Who: Who will you and your team work with? Do you like them? Do they treat people well? Do they possess the “3R-Factor”: Reliable, Respectful, and Responsive?
What: What does the customer do? Is it truly aligned with your core competencies, or is it outside your expertise? There is a difference between stretching beyond your comfort zone to grow, and biting off something you should not be chewing.
Where: Where will you and/or your team have to do the work? Does it require travel, and if so, is travel a deal-breaker for you? Does it require a 2-hour daily commute? How do logistics impact your overall quality of life?
When: By when does the customer need you to complete the work, and is it a viable deadline? Is your customer’s requirement setting you up for success, or inviting chaos and failure into your organization?
Why: Why does the customer want you to complete this work? What does the customer do? Can you support their mission? Do you believe in their purpose?
How: How will you engage with the customer? Is there an alignment between the working styles and culture of your organization and your customer’s organization? How will you complete the work? Do you have the resources you need, or does it require a capital investment?
Every opportunity doesn’t translate into a customer. For Successful Culture, I’ve created many strategic alliances, and formed an “eco-system” of trusted experts, who are my go-to referral sources for prospects that turn out to be deal-breakers. Knowing what we do well, and who is or isn’t a match for us, allows us to stay true to our purpose, and serve our customers consistently with excellence.
Saying NO is just as important as saying YES when building a successful business.
What are your deal-breakers?
Please share them in the comments section of this post.
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CEO, Successful Culture
“Taking Leaders from Triage to Transformation.”