When is it acceptable to fire a customer?

I’ve been in a customer facing role for the last seven years. My first role as a Pre-Sales Architect came after years of running an architecture internal to a large insurance company.

There were many adjustments I needed to make in order to be successful in this new role. Some came easily to me, most notably the empathy which is required to support an internal IT role. I’d been there for years, so my abilities in this respect simply came naturally to me. There were others that didn’t come quite so smoothly. In this, I’d have to say the most difficult for me to achieve had to probably be the desire to influence the buyer that my solution was the most ideal for their needs. In some cases, surely, I did have the ideal solution, but in others, a bit of shoehorning needed to take place for this to be accomplished. I did have some philosophical problems pushing a somewhat less than ideal solution to my customers.

Taking care of the needs of my customers had always been the first priority toward which I focused my efforts. Arriving at the best solution, regardless of vendor, is and was paramount.

At what point, though, does the specific need the customer reflects, outweigh the benefits?

In some ways, a simple cost-benefit-analysis is all it takes. But that may be putting too simple a formula to the complexity of a decision like this. The requirements of a customer who’s not appropriate for your customer base, demands too much time, attention, or effort, with not enough pay-off to the company for whom you work could expedite the simple formula. But that’s easily too obvious an answer.

We could go on and on about a customer who’s unwilling or unable to pay their bills. This is again, a clear decision. In these cases, to state, “We’ll help, but we must change the pay dynamic” is appropriate. How about making things Net 10, or payable upon service? We must be considerate of their unique set of circumstances. However, this is a business, and to cut off a customer, as they’ve stopped being mutually beneficial, is quite possibly a little too self-serving. More must be entered into that equation. For example, do they want to work with you exclusively? Is this extended effort a one-time research project, or is it every single time?

My personal biggest frustration is when a new customer has placed us in the position of building an architecture for their needs, refining and refining, then takes the configuration and uses it for guidance on retrieving a competitive bid elsewhere. While we may have some slight advantage due to having registered the bid initially, we are a fully functional service provider. Our capacities extend far beyond the mere quoting of hardware. Our expertise simply in designing a quality architecture should, by all rights, give us some reasonable leg up. If a customer is buying just based on pricing, there are plenty of reputable options. I know that I should regularly hope that these customers recognize the efforts, and even if I do lose the deal based on pricing this time, my hope is that they come back the next time, when my value has proven itself.

Let’s all try to interact with integrity, please?

I think that what’s clear here is that these decisions must be made cautiously, on a case by case basis. What you don’t want to do, specifically, is throw away a good relationship. What you must do is be aware that a beneficial relationship can be forever lost.



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