My Biggest Mistake – Too Much Focus on the Next Customer

Your best clients are your best source of business – and your competitor’s prospects. Take them for granted at great peril. Over a long business career, I have seen companies of all sizes make the same mistake. Don’t be among them. Keep chasing those new customers, but don’t ignore those who are paying the rent.

Chicago Tribune, September 27, 2004

As the new office managing partner at a big eight accounting firm in the mid ‘80s, I was committed to “growing our business.” That meant chasing the next client. We had new business campaigns and bonuses for those bringing in new clients. We spent enormous time chasing prospects; and preparing proposals enumerating the reasons for hiring us.

One day, as I was reading yet another proposal promising “outstanding service,” I noticed in particular our assurance that the prospect’s 1120 corporate tax return would be delivered “timely.” Since far too many tax returns were delivered to our existing clients the afternoon of the September 15th filing date, I asked my partners around the table “… are we providing our existing clients the same level of service we were providing this prospect”? Their blank stares answered my question.

My only consolation was in knowing that our competitors were generally no better at making this date than we were.

Recognizing our opportunity — and vulnerability to competitors, we decided to “propose” to our major clients as if they were prospects. In particular, we committed to delivering – and discussing — the tax return no later than June 30th. The results were dramatic. We generated substantial revenue with no marketing cost, solidified client relationships and created a strong base of endorsements. The most significant source of new revenues? Tax planning opportunities from our “new” clients.

The experience taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten. Your best clients are your best source of business – and your competitor’s prospects. Take them for granted at great peril. Over a long business career, I have seen companies of all sizes make the same mistake. Don’t be among them. Keep chasing those new customers, but don’t ignore those who are paying the rent.

Implement processes to ensure periodic review of customer service. Review customer business issues. Meet with them. Show interest. Ask how you can better serve them. Without constant monitoring, your organization will tend to focus only on new business. And when it does – the service to your existing customers will deteriorate.

The only thing you should be working harder at than bringing in new customers is serving the ones you have.

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