Time to Fire Your Customer, It Is

In my role as a strategic solutions consultant, I work with my colleagues to accomplish two objectives: understand what our customers are trying to do and why, and effectively communicate the power of our solutions. A recent conversation with one prospective customer yielded a conclusion they weren’t expecting: I fired them.

Perhaps “fired” isn’t quite the right term, but I think it conveys the correct sentiment. While this prospective customer had been referred to us by another user of our solution, and it’s always tough to forego a referral client, our solution was overkill for this new team’s requirements. When I explained the gap between their requirements, budget and timing between our two organizations, the initial reaction was astonishment. Astonishment quickly turned to gratitude, however. Neither team had wasted time nor precious resources pursuing something that would ultimately result in dissatisfaction and defection.

As part of the initial requirements gathering phase of any engagement, it’s easy to determine fit:

1. Has budget been established?
2. Are the technological requirements feasible?
3. Is the timing for delivery realistic?
4. Can both parties deliver the necessary resources (staff, time, budget, technology)?
5. Are the success criteria mutually agreed upon?

Answer these in the affirmative, and get ready to rock-and-roll. Answer any in the negative, revisit each, determine where compromise can be made without intolerable deviation from the primary goal, and move forward. If no compromise can be made, or if the scope is too far out of bounds, politely decline the opportunity. I usually make recommendations as to other solution providers or approaches when I “fire” a prospective customer in this way; it goes a long way in reinforcing trust and confidence in my expertise and in my organization’s solutions. Firing your customer appropriately is actually a great customer experience, as it happens.

So, have you had to “fire” a customer? How did you approach that conversation, and what after-action lessons can you share?