Drucker told us that “the purpose of business is to create a customer.” All customers are equal, but some customers are more equal than others. This is why you should invest at different levels with different prospects and customers. In brief, invest more in good prospects and customers. Invest less in those that are less good.

By good, I mean prospects and customers that help you do good for others, can help you do things you are good at, and do things that are good for you.

Good for others

Customers that do good for others are good.

I did a lot of work for the Red Cross through the years. All the work was pro bono and it never led to other work. I did this work because I believe in what the Red Cross is doing and the positive impact it has on others. That made the Red Cross a good customer for me and my firm.

Organizations truly driven by doing good for others are generally wonderful to work for. They tend to be mission-driven, care a lot about their values, and filled with like-minded people. It’s almost always emotionally rewarding, if not financially rewarding.

Good at it

Customers that give you the opportunity to build knowledge, skills or experience are good. They may give you the opportunity to try out new products or services. They may be in new industries or functions.

We’re continually evolving our services and trying out new services, ratcheting up our current best thinking. We’re happy when customers help us build our strengths.

Over the past two decades, we’ve definitely learned more from our customers than they have learned from us. We’ve been careful to stay focused on executive onboarding and transition acceleration. This has allowed us to apply everything we’ve learned to getting better at this one area. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, we strive to be as good as possible at one thing for people that need that one thing.

Good for you

Customers that are good for you directly or indirectly now or in the future are good. Some of these:

  • Can hire and pay you now.
  • Won’t hire you now, but may hire you later.
  • Won’t hire you, but can refer you to others that can hire you now or later.

Obviously the first group, that can hire and pay you now, are the most valuable over the short-term. But the other two groups are often the keys to future success. We’ve built a systemic way of helping people at different levels from free articles to fairly priced books to online prep services to our full services.

Instead of trying to get everyone to pay our full freight, we meet customers where they are and help them as we can. It’s good for them immediately and definitely good for us over time.

Differentially Good

While there is no one right answer for everyone, there are definitely some wrong answers.

Those that spend all their time doing pro bono work for customers doing good for others, by definition, are never going to make any money. If you don’t need money, fine. But if you do, pro bono customers can be part of your customer set – just not all of it.

Those that spend all their time focused on customers that help them build their strengths are likely underpricing their services over the short-term. If they’re OK with that, good for them. They’ll grow over time.

Those that spend all their time focused on customers that produce direct or indirect revenue should be fine over the short term. But they may not be growing their own strengths. This means they will become less valuable over time.

The point is that you should keep these three goods in balance – whatever you decide is the right balance for you. Focus your business development on good customers and shy away from those that are not good enough for you.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles(of which this is #820) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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