Do you have clients or customers? Many salespeople, business owners, and companies use the terms interchangeably, simply meaning someone who has bought from them. But the difference is crucial to your success in building a long-term, profitable business.
The dictionary definitions begin to make the difference clear:
Customer: An individual or group who buys a good or service
Client: An individual or group who engages professional advice and guidance
Which of the above do you want work with? Someone who buys because you happen to have the good or service they need, or someone who relies on your professional advice and guidance?
In reality, I think the concept of client goes well beyond simply relying on professional advice. I believe a true client relationship involves a relationship. The idea of client means an individual or group who trusts, whose needs and wants and circumstances are intimately known to the professional giving the advice and guidance, and where there is frequent and open communication between the parties.
On the other hand, the concept of customer is an individual or group that makes a purchase based on convenience, price, accessibility, or some other factor, including persuasion or pressure. These are not necessarily one-time buyers. They may, in fact, be repeat buyers—maybe on a very regular basis. But their purchasing decisions are not based on their trust of and relationship with the salesperson. Guidance and advice is minimal or even non-existent. Contact with them is occasional, often through nothing more than a newsletter, a direct mail piece, or a once a year phone call.
Take a close look at your client database.
- Which of your clients do you know needs an additional product or service of yours? I’m not talking about, “everybody needs the Wiz Bang X3 product.” I mean which of the clients in your database do you know well enough to KNOW you have a product or service they really need—and exactly what product or service it is they need, and their specific problem or issue that it will help them solve?
- Which of your clients are you comfortable calling and asking for referrals, for a testimonial letter, for a recommendation on LinkedIn?
- Which of your clients would you not hesitate to use as a reference without asking their permission if needed because you know without question what they will say?
- Which of your clients can you point to and say without hesitation that they trust and respect you? Not, “I think,” or “I believe.” But you know without a doubt they trust you. If your answer is all, you’ve either not given the question much thought or you’re fooling yourself.
Those people in your database that you can give a positive answer to every one of the above questions are your clients. The rest are customers.
Clients stay with us over the long haul because their purchase isn’t based on price. They didn’t buy because we happened to persuade them to make a purchase they later regretted. They didn’t purchase because we happened to be in the right place at the right time. They bought because they see us as being trustworthy; giving advice and guidance that is valuable to them and helps them make wise decisions. Our relationship is more important than a few dollars. Convenience is secondary, trust and respect is primary.
We all have customers. And we have customers that for whatever reason we don’t want to be clients. They may have more demands than their business justifies, we may not work well with them, their needs are so small and infrequent they don’t justify the time and energy investment.
Nevertheless, if you want a sustained, profitable business, you must concentrate on creating clients, not customers. You must identify those customers and prospects that should be—must be—your clients, and then you must invest the time and energy to build the relationships with them that will create a true client, not a customer.
Simply making a sale and adding the name to your database isn’t going to create a client. Sending an occasional newsletter or making an annual call isn’t creating a client. Persuading someone to buy something doesn’t create a client.
Clients are created through establishing a relationship, not being sold. Clients are relationships, not sales orders. Clients are men and women who can count on you—and you can count on them. Clients don’t have to question your integrity or advice—and you don’t have to question their loyalty.
Yet you can never be so comfortable with a client that you take them for granted. In fact, if your client is really a client you wouldn’t think of taking them for granted because you have both a professional and emotional commitment to them. You’re primarily concerned about their welfare, not your profit. One arises out of the other.
Clients are not lost because of price or convenience. Clients are lost because the relationship has broken down, the trust has eroded, their sense of your interest in their welfare is gone.
Search your database and determine who is a client and who is a customer. Decide who should be moved from customer status to client status and begin creating the long-term relationship with them that will create the loyalty and trust that will provide you with the foundation of clients you must have for your long-term success. And then focus your attention on finding prospects that you want as clients, not just customers.