Sidestepping the Needy-Customer Trap
Initially, you build your business by personally, and painstakingly, attending to your customers' needs. If you're good at it, your business grows until you have more customers than you can handle by yourself. So you hire people to help--but the customers keep coming to you with their problems. My son-in-law, Ari, has been experiencing this in his home-building and -remodeling business. He told me recently that incessant client demands were driving him crazy. "They want me to do everything, and whenever an issue comes up, they want me to take care of it personally," he said. I told him that wasn't the clients' fault.
Founders wind up in this situation when they fail to delegate responsibility. Ari is typical in that regard. He loves negotiating deals and running his business, but he also loves being on the site every day, getting his boots muddy. When a problem arises, his clients know where to find him. Because he hasn't told them otherwise, they assume he wants them to deal directly with him.
Although it's not wrong to run a business that way, you need to recognize that you're making a choice if you do. In effect, you're deciding to keep your company small. "You have to hire good people and train them properly," I told Ari. "You can also reassure clients that if your people can't resolve an issue, they can always contact you directly. But if you want to grow the business, you have to let go."
I was talking from experience here. I faced a similar choice in my records-storage business. I love to sell. I love the whole process, from the first interaction with a prospect to the contract signing and beyond. I realized, however, that the business wouldn't grow if I insisted on being involved at every stage. So, instead, I came up with a system whereby my salespeople did most of the selling, and I just came in for the close. There, I told prospects that I was sure my people could handle any problems they had, but they could always reach me on my cell phone if they needed me. I think I received three calls in 10 years.
Granted, it's difficult to give up doing things you love. It's especially hard when you think you can do the work better than anyone else. You may even be right about that. I certainly thought I was my company's best salesperson. But if you hire the right people, you'll find they're almost as good at being you as you--and they'll keep you out of the needy customer trap.
NORM BRODSKY | Columnist
Street Smarts columnist and senior contributing editor Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur who has founded and expanded six businesses.