If you have a customer that dominates your sales or your profitability picture, I know you are losing sleep. If that customer is a real whale—a builder, buyer or other company that is significantly larger than the rest of your business—then your stress level is even higher.
At the same time, that key account is probably keeping you insanely busy. That means that, while it may be paying the bills, it’s also probably blocking you from growing your business with other accounts to cut your risk.
That account has become a drug. You are addicted to the income, yet you are totally dependent on it for your business future.
This article is based on the reality that you cannot afford to lose your biggest customer: you have to take steps to ensure satisfaction with your work. At the same time, however, you should be paying attention to the reality that you may need to spread your wings.
Don’t put you biggest account at risk by ignoring these tips
Here are my do’s and don’ts for handling this situation. The first point I want to make is: don’t put your biggest account at risk by ignoring these tips. At the same time, don’t be so overwhelmed by your biggest account that you become self-destructive.
- Let your large customers know they are important to you. Some business professionals believe you need to keep a secret from those customers that they are your largest account. They already know, so acknowledge it. Their concerns are going to be more about overwhelming your business, so you need to make sure they are getting top-notch service, and you are meeting all of your commitments.
- Pay attention to the details. Nothing loses an account faster than skipping over the surface and not thinking through issues and following up on problems.
- Know them better than they know themselves. In many organizations, you might actually be the continuity that your client is desperately looking for. At Owens Corning, for example, the marketing communication managers rotated through the company about every two years. However, the ad agencies that worked with the company had nearly 20 years of experience to fall back on to provide consistency for Owens Corning’s image and messages in the market.
- Make sure your best team is on the job. Your biggest account grew to be the size it is with your best team in place. Don’t fill the ranks with young, inexperienced folks and think you, as the leader of the pack, can serve as the brains. You’ll quickly bog yourself down, and the account will see it has lost the ‘A’ team.
- Have a backup plan. If the worse happens and you lose a major piece of business, you need to rescale your organization fast to match expenses with income.
- Decide if an outsized customer is really a good thing. If the sleepless nights become too much, build a plan that allows you to grow your business with existing resources and start chipping away at the risk of a dominant customer.
Don’t be so overwhelmed by your biggest account that you become self-destructive
- Say yes regardless of the request. If you know there’s a project that’s just too big or too demanding, work to rescope it so that it matches your ability to deliver flawlessly.
- Sacrifice building your other customers. Don’t make your problem worse by ignoring the rest of your business. Be realistic about your abilities and available time. Don’t make your problems worse by losing your smaller customers.
- Compromise your standards and ethics. Focus always on doing the best possible job and delivering consistently for all your accounts. Stay true to your corporate culture and to your own expectations.
- Ignore the need for growth. Growth will keep your risk in check and help ensure the future. Think about both new business and organic growth. Is there a way to leverage your largest account skills with other, smaller accounts? Does your large account give you any bragging rights that could attract new business?
- Keep success to yourself. Finds ways to celebrate your business wins inside your company and, as appropriate, to your new business mailing list. For example, I worked for an agency that had a “red letter” day. Each time the company won a new account, it would send a letter on red paper to all the agency’s current and potential accounts.
- Stop negotiating or selling. Adding new business allows you to build up your margins and fund your growth. Adding new accounts reduces the risk you carry from that one big account.
By focusing on these tips, you might not get more sleep, but you will be formulating plans for the future that will ensure the continued growth and vitality of your firm — with or without that whale.