Two Kinds of Customers

I want to walk you thru a quick thought exercise about two kinds of customers and see if you land where I do. It's a simple exercise but one that I don't think we do enough.

First, imagine the first prospect

You answer your phone and the customer is looking for help on a project. They know exactly what they want and what they need. They're clear about the tasks they want to assign you and have reasonable estimates about how long it should take.

They want to know about your availability and cost, to see if they can afford you. But other than not knowing your rate, they know everything else they could know.

They're the educated customer we're always talking about.

If they want a web site, they know they want WordPress. They know that some themes are better than others, so they're ready to pay for one of the more popular and well-coded ones. They know which plugins they want, and they've checked the ratings and downloads to know they're not picking bad apples. They know where they want to host it and they have the budget for managed hosting.

If there's two kinds of customers, you could call this one the dream client. You get off the phone, having enjoyed everything about the call and realized you barely did any work.

Now you talk to the second prospect

This customer sounds like they don't know a thing about what they want.

They want your help on a project because they've heard you're smart and friendly. But beyond liking what they heard about you, they don't know anything.

  • They don't know what they need.
  • They don't know what they want.
  • They don't have any idea of timeline because they don't know how big the project will be.
  • They have no budget because they don't know what to expect.

All they know is that they need something – and of course, they'll know it when they see it.

Two kinds of customers…which do you pick?

If you could only pick one customer, which would you pick?

Most everyone I know picks the first customer. We all want “smart” customers – who know what it takes to do what we do, who know what they want, and who don't have unreasonable expectations.

I bet you thought this thought exercise was not only a waste of time, but plain stupid, right?

Are we picking the wrong ones?

Let me start by saying I know this thought exercise is foolish because you'd likely take both on, if you had the bandwidth. Let me also state, up front, that the point of the thought exercise was to walk you down this road…

The first kind of customer is an easy customer.

They “get” it. They deliver a consistent and certain level of profit because your work is repeatable. And because it's repeatable, you know the cost. And because you know the cost, you know how to make sure you've baked profit into the job. So in the end, you have a repeatable process with a clear sense of profit margin. It may not be a large margin, but it's a guaranteed margin. And seriously, who doesn't like that?

But there's a twist there.

It's a repeatable process. And if it's repeatable, then I might argue that you could eventually be removed from the equation. Do we really need you there?

Couldn't someone else, someone cheaper, someone faster, someone cheaper and faster ultimately replace you?

History has a series of situations where this has been the case: the gas station attendant, the bank teller, and the list continues.

So that first customer, while profitable, also pulls you into work that will ultimately go the way of the dodo bird. Maybe not this year. But eventually.

Now think about the second customer.

The truth is that they don't know what they want. The job isn't just assembly. It's a job that requires co-creation – where you and the customer interact enough about their plans that you've internalized them and can now help them make good and sound strategy choices.

In case #1 you assemble the solution for a known problem.
In case #2 you converse and create, so you can find & solve the problem.

The world will always need problem solvers

We'll start with the simple question that comes from this thought exercise: What will you be known for?

Now you know why I think you might be better off picking that “difficult” customer.

Because in the end, you'll bring more value to them than to the easy customer. And that easy customer is already comparing you to DIY solutions (like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Webflow, and, of course, Shopify).

In the last few years, we've seen that very dynamic, haven't we?

There's another question from this thought exercise (not just “what will you be known for?”). If you no longer specialize in assembly (because it's automated), where will you specialize?

Notice the question isn't about focusing on specialization. It's about focusing on more valuable services – strategy, integration, etc.

That's why I think of the two kinds of customers, we've been focusing on the wrong ones.