I was on the phone with a prospect, the owner of a company that provides monthly contract services. His average contract is small but he has a lot of them and, consequently, a lot of customers.
“We’re still making money because of our current contracts, but in spite of my efforts, some contracts always drop off. It’s critical that I replace them.”
“So what’s the problem with getting the bids out?’ I asked.
“My customers! My team could handle all their issues, but customers always want to talk to me. In fact, since we’ve been talking, I got a message to call a guy back. Elizabeth said I was on the phone and tried to re-route the call, but he declined and wants me to call him back.
“I can’t afford to be rude and act like I’m blowing customers off, but it never stops. I can’t get anything done.”
My prospective client was still making money, but that 27% drop in bids is going to show up as lower earnings in the future. As for any hope he may have of growing his company - forget about it!
A guy who doesn’t have time to maintain sales doesn’t have time to increase them. Interfering with profit and growth are two good reasons not to talk to customers, but there is also a third.
A few years ago, I spent some time with a private equity firm from the New York City area. Private equity firms are in the business of buying companies, increasing their values and selling them. It’s sort of like “company-flipping” instead of “house-flipping,” and a successful flip depends on sustaining and improving upon the current earnings of the purchased company.
At the time, the firm was evaluating an oil field service company located in Northwest Louisiana. The service company was in the firm’s target market, energy, and the owner, Jean-Luc, had managed to earn impressive profits.
With high profits and an agreed price, the deal looked promising, or at least it did until due diligence began in earnest. The firm’s research showed the owner was personally responsible for about 90% of the company’s sales. His was the face of the business in the eyes of his customers and almost all sales ran through him.
The problem was that he would be retiring after the sale closed.
It’s hard to replace a competent business owner, harder still to replace the face of the company who brings in 90% of its revenue, but it’s almost impossible to replace an owner named Jean-Luc from rural Louisiana with a new owner named Lenny from New York City.
The firm did not buy the company. They doubted their ability to sustain sales to rural Louisiana customers without Jean-luc. The New York City firm missed an opportunity and Jean-Luc missed his dream of cashing in on his life’s work.
Both opportunities were lost because Jean-Luc had always been the one who talked to customers.
The Face of The Company
You may argue that I’m overstating my case when I say we shouldn’t talk to our customers.
Most of us love customers and enjoy interacting with them. But if we allow them to hijack all of our time, we will not be able to work on our businesses and will forever be limited by our personal capacity to get things done.
Current profits, growth, the value of our businesses and, ultimately, our freedom depend on our working on the business, not just in it. We can’t do that if we are perpetually talking to customers. As owners, it is better that customers don’t recognize us at all than that they recognize us as the faces of our companies.
How About You?
Do you agree? Do your customers always want to talk to the “owner” or to the “boss”? If so, why? Do you let them? Could you get more done by working on your business and letting your competent staff handle all interactions with customers? Please let me know your thoughts and watch for future articles on how to transition customers from you to your team.