If you want profit, value, and client loyalty, stop calling them customers and start treating them like clients.

I hate the word customer.

Customers go to vendors to buy commodities. If I want toothpaste, I go to Walmart or Amazon. If I want 2X4’s, I go to Home Depot or Lowes. 

Clients go to trusted advisors to get value. If I need financial advice, I email my accountant. If I need legal advice, I call my attorney. If I have a security problem with my computer systems, I call my managed I.T. services provider. 

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Price vs. Value

Customers are price-driven. Unless you offer the lowest price, they are not loyal. They will drop you in a heartbeat for a competitor with a lower price.

Clients are value-driven. They realize that the value doesn’t just come from the product you sell. It also comes from the services you wrap around the product, the advice you give, and their overall experience. 

Vendor vs. Partner

Customers see you as a vendor. They have a list of potential vendors. They go with what they feel is the absolute lowest price for the minimum value they require. They use RFP’s and bids.

Clients see you as a partner. They look to you for strategy. They see you as an extension of their team. You have a virtual seat at their strategy table. You become a critical, and even indispensable, part of their business.

One-and-Done vs. Loyal

Customers are one-and-done. On top of that, they are usually demanding and sometimes downright annoying.

Clients are Loyal

Clients see the value in a long-term relationship. There is give-and-take. They have high expectations, but they are also realistic. They trust you enough to know that you will make things right if something goes wrong.

Who Will You Go After? Customers or Clients?

Are there people who only want the commodity? Sure. But unless you’re a high-volume provider like Walmart, Amazon, or Home Depot, you’ll die trying to compete in this bloody arena. 

If you want profit and long-term relationships with people you like to serve, you need to go after clients.

How Do You Get Clients?

How do you get clients? As my friend Larry Levine likes to say, “Don’t be an empty suit.” To have clients instead of customers you need two things:

  1. Authentic Relationships
  2. Authentic Value

Authentic Relationships

You care about your clients. Their success matters. You take it personally, celebrating when they win and feeling their pain when they struggle. You also know them personally. Clients know your phone number. Sometimes they even text you with questions. You are part of their team.

Authentic Value

You know as much about their business and industry as you know about your own. You don’t just have product knowledge, you have business acumen. You bring great ideas to the table. You are a thought-leader. You invest the time to learn so you can truly help.

So, a few takeaways:

  • Stop calling them customers. You get what you expect. Don’t expect loyal client relationships if you define them as customers.
  • Be a trusted advisor. As a company, invest in your people and your message. Educate your staff, your clients, and your prospects. Be the expert. As sales professionals, do the heavy work. Educate yourself so you can bring value to your clients.

What are the rewards? I think they are well worth the effort. Here are a few of the benefits of having clients vs. customers: profit, loyalty, competitive advantage, and referrals.