A few years ago I received an inquiry for services through the contact page on my website. The company seemed like a perfect prospect. The referral had come through a trusted source who knew the prospect and my work well. The owner was smart, ambitious and had already demonstrated excellent results. The owner was interested in a marketing partner who could help take the company to the next level of growth. The product was interesting and in a familiar industry.
The owner and I easily spent an hour brainstorming ideas. I dove right into recommendations and the owner seemed pleased with the insights.
The owner started dissecting every element of the contract, questioning the specifics of one line to another. I spent hours on the phone answering questions and justifying time. Each time after hanging up I realized that I had just given away hours of time and insights – for free! Our exchanges flipped from collaboration to buyer/seller negotiation. The owner saw my services as a cost center, not as a growth engine.
Somehow I found myself in a very unsatisfying engagement. I spent many more hours on the project than projected. I dreaded adversarial discussions with the owner. Despite my efforts to deliver value, I always felt underappreciated and overworked.
After several weeks, I was finally able to extricate myself and complete the project. In reflection, I could admit this customer was not really the deadbeat. Instead the culprit was my own deadbeat sales and service delivery processes.
To be honest, the experience was just the kick in the pants I needed to improve. I developed a Customer Screener to get a better read up front on new prospects. I restructured my contracts and descriptions to more clearly communicate costs and value delivered. And I better thought through my service delivery to ensure the project (and my time) stayed on track and within scope.
On November 29th at 1pm ET I will offer a live webinar to share the process and tools for getting better customers (and offloading some of the deadbeats). Sign up here – as a gift to my SCORE readers, all registrants will get a free copy of my ebook “The Secret of Getting Better Customers”. You can also sign up here to get editable “better customer” templates and tools to start working on your business.