Divorce Irish Style - or the vital importance of having a customer exit strategy!

Many of my regular readers and listeners will know I’m Irish, born and bred. You may or may not be aware that, as a still predominantly Catholic country, divorce in Ireland only became legal in 1996. As a consequence - and also because of deep rooted family tradition and values - we have a peculiar Irish phenomenon called “Divorce – Irish Style”. This is where married couples continue to live together under one roof in name only, for the sake of the kids, neighbours, family etc., but secretly simmer with resentment, frustration, anger, disappointment and often silence, only leaving when something else better comes along and forces the issue.

Now, what’s this sorry tale got to do with sales and marketing? Well, it’s all about your customers and choice – your choice. Choosing to stay with customers and willingly give 100% commitment and value and nothing less, or actually choosing to part company, if after due consideration, you are clear it no longer makes sense to continue doing business with each other. i.e. divorce. This might sound a bit dramatic, but hey, I’m all for shock tactics. In reality, many of us are in stale relationships with customers which no longer make sense but we’re too afraid to leave. We tolerate, put up with, waste time on and get frustrated with them but still hang in there in the hope of…

A word of warning – this also applies the other way around and maybe that’s next month’s newsletter!

Some of you may feel that all customers are important and equal and certainly, if I put my customer service training hat on, I agree. All customers should be treated with TLC and valued and respected. This is not about customer bashing!
However, strategically, the reality is that not all customers are in fact equal and sometimes the time and energy wasted focusing on the wrong customers means you have insufficient time and energy to focus on finding, minding and nurturing the right ones. I know the story of “out of tiny acorns may grow a big oak tree…”, and that’s often true, but again it’s all about strategy and choice .Choosing the customers you want, where you see real potential and mutual gain or deciding to part company with the ones where it no longer makes sense... for either. It’s about taking the time to be strategic rather than reactionary.

I say this with absolute conviction based on exploring this on behalf of many of my clients over the years, particularly in the SME sector. Many ask for my help in sorting out that fundamental problem of lack of time and money for effective sales and marketing activity and needing to decide where to focus. I often start with a simple “value segmentation” of their customer base and we get a clear view of four customer groupings or segments:

1. High current value / high future potential – Strategy: Mind Well
2. High current value / low future potential – Strategy: Don’t be blinded by current success…think long term
3. Low current value / high future potential – Strategy: Explore and drill down
4. Low current value / low future potential – Strategy: Decide: stay or go!

Now, interestingly many clients find they have an awful lot of customers who fall into category 4 and not that many in category 1. They also find that they don't have enough time to explore and develop category 3, often because they’re blinded by category 2. Many actually find the cost and hassle of servicing category 4 is high and actually a better ROI would be to invest elsewhere. “But I couldn’t possibly divorce a client… could I!?”

Now I am not suggesting you dump clients willy nilly using the BBM, Twitter, E-mail or Facebook methodology of some of our youngsters who regularly acheter du cialis en ligne “dump friends” very publically. However, equally, ‘Divorce Irish Style’ is not the answer – it will only lead to a seething resentment on both sides where someone ends up walking off very battered and bruised.

I am suggesting you carefully evaluate your customer portfolio and decide which customers make sense and which you want more of; and by default which you might wish to part from or want less of. I find the best way of parting company is honesty and offering alternative solutions. Most people get it and in fact are often relieved because they were starting to feel unloved anyway.

I recently decided not to bid for a piece of business I had successfully won for several years but had ceased to make commercial sense for me for some years now on a number of levels. However I had been too afraid to walk away because:

• Maybe a competitor might get in?
• Maybe they might think badly of me?
• Maybe things just might improve …one day?
• Maybe there was a big opportunity just about to happen?

An awful lot of maybes that really stopped me from moving forward. Do you know something? The day I said NO, I had such a moment of euphoria and clarity that I went out and closed two really big deals - I haven’t looked back.
Equally for the customer, this can be the best move. Often your customer is better off with someone else – someone for whom their business makes more sense, but not you! Personally I’m a big believer in honesty and clarity, rather than suffering in silence. If the relationship no longer makes sense, move on.

I’d love to know your thoughts and own experiences on this possibly controversial topic.

Please feedback below


Divorce Irish Style

Speaking as an Irishman myself I would'nt really see the link in the way you put it - we have moved on from that. Anyway this really is something that can be explored through a Lean Improvement initiative. The Voice of the Customer "VoC" approach will help. See www.pracc.co.uk - case studies for examples.

Brian A Butler
Accelerate Ltd

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