Fire that Customer!

Not long ago I wrote about firing prospects that consume way too much time and never buy anything.  This time we’ll deal with customers that, buy to little, are just too demanding, are not profitable and not worth keeping. 

Here are some warning signs to watch for and then some steps to take to Fire that Customer!  

As a young regional sales manager calling on dealers across the country, I worked with many excellent business owners.  There were some I truly enjoyed and some well, not so much.  With the good dealers, there was mutual respect.  We both knew when we could bend a little and made sure there was reciprocity when the opportunity arose to make a little more.

Before you fire a customer who, you feel has wronged you, evaluate the situation.  Is this a recurring problem or behavior?  Even the best of us can have a bad day.  Secondly, was this situation so grievous that you question the character of the customer?  If so, you know separation is coming.  Just make sure you have the full story.  Call the customer; hear their side.  Don’t make a major decision without both sides of the story. Discuss it calmly and decide if you will give them another chance. 

The longer you work with customers the more you learn about their behavior.  If the questionable behavior continues, then take action.  They are becoming a drain on you, your team and your resources.

Call them again and confirm the details of the recent transgression.  Remain calm.  If they acknowledge the behavior to be true, you have uncovered a pattern that will only get worse.  It never improves.

Now comes the task of terminating the relationship.  The best approach is to make sure you have agreement from your team and management.  With that in place you have two avenues that will take you to termination:

  1. Call them (no email or text) and have the hard conversation explaining why you are terminating the relationship and the details of closing the relationship (disposition of inventory, outstanding contracts, etc.).  Again, remain calm and follow up the conversation with a confirming letter.  It’s not unlike terminating one of your team members.  Keep it brief and to the point.  Don’t raise your voice, sink to name calling or character assassination.  You will hate yourself later.
  2.  The other option is to change how you do business with them and therefore making them want to leave.  You can extend lead times, raise prices, eliminate special orders…you get the picture. 

Finally, don’t speak disparagingly about past customers.  Be professional in you conversations and never discuss the details with other customers.

Much like firing an employee with poor behavior, we usually wait too long.  After it’s over, you wonder what took so long.  The most valuable and precious thing we, as sales professionals, is our time.  Don’t waste it on problem customers.  You will find a way to replace the revenue and be much happier. 

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