One of the hardest things for a business owner to do is to trust the people whom they have hired. This one critical success factor can be harder to master than doing your own accounting or figuring out why your software isn’t working.
It’s common for self-starters and entrepreneurs of all stripes to just jump in and handle things by default — including tasks as simple as following up on a lead to addressing customer questions or customizing services to meet a special request.
Those are all important to keep revenue flowing, but each is an employee-level task that will drain away a business owner’s most precious resource: time.
Never forget that time is not money. You can always make more money but nobody has found a way to manufacture time (yet).
As a business leader, you only really have time to concentrate on the tasks that only you can do. For everything else, you will need to trust your team. Before you can do that, though, you will need to pull your team into alignment. They should be able to assess value the same way you do and make decisions on the fly based on a deep understanding of what is best for the business.
Here’s how you do that.
When the Customer Is Wrong
Employees can only be effective at their assigned work when they share a common goal. It’s up to the business leader to communicate what that goal is and whether everyone got the memo. Make sure your employees know and agree about what to look for in an ideal customer, as well as know the warning signs of customers who can hurt your profitability.
“The customer is always right” is a simplistic reminder that excellence in customer experience equals growth, but that old saw deserves a second line: “Not every customer is right for you.” Toxic customers can drain away your resources, damage employee morale and delay payment for services to the point where you can’t meet your obligations. The way to avoid them is to first define your own Ideal Customer Profile and then train employees to nurture those relationships.
The Ideal Customer Profile means different things to different companies, but it starts with a definition of your unique vision and the various strategies you intend on applying to make it real.
The Prize and the Path to Get There
What do you really want to do with your company and why would anyone choose you over the competitors?
Of course, you want to make money, but there are a million ways to do that. How do you want to make money specifically? Your mission statement doesn’t have to be long or even realistic at this point. It just has to guide employees on where your company is headed.
See if you can surpass these:
- Southwest Airlines: “To become the world’s most loved, most flown and most profitable airline.”
- Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. – *If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
- Airbnb: “Belong anywhere.”
While those visions are fairly broad in who they intend to serve, the Ideal Customer Profile zeros in on a specific set of best-case characteristics.
The Ideal Customer Profile: Who, What and Why
Most ideal customer profiles grow from an examination of who your best customers are now, what they like about your company and why they keep coming back.
Pull sales data on all of your customers and rank them on:
- Total amount of sales
- Frequency of sales
- Profitability of items or services purchased
It is often eye-opening for owners and employees alike when they realize that the customers who have been their best business partners over the years have been neglected in favor of those with intense demands but extremely low value to the business. That’s not fair to anyone.
However, this discovery phase doesn’t mean you should refuse to do business with these high-maintenance customers, but it makes sense to raise your prices for what they need so that your business can survive. While it’s true that they may end up moving on due to the price hike, these are the types of customer who frequently grow to become highly valuable partners that are willing to pay for the amount of attention they need.
Build your ideal customer profile from a mashup of your best customers, with an eye on how they can support current strategies to achieve your vision.
Growing the Ideal Customer Garden
You can’t just mention this once and hope for the best. Employees should have repeated exposure to ideal customer characteristics in order to ingrain them into work habits. It should be part of new hire training and include special recognition for employees who go above and beyond for your best customers.
Now that you know who you are looking for, it’s easy to come up with questions that will sort each lead in terms of how close they come to that ideal. Remember that the best salespeople are the best listeners.
One of the best feelings as a business owner is the realization that you can be everywhere at once if you just build a cohesive team that shares a set of defined business objectives. It’s not even a matter of trust, although you should hire who you trust and trust who you hire. Even a few bad calls and slip-ups along the way shouldn’t break that trust. Those are merely indications that you need to communicate more clearly what the team as a whole should prioritize.
Many business leaders before you have faced tougher odds and succeeded. There is no reason why you and your team can’t do the same, but it won’t work until the team shares a single mind on what you want to achieve.