Fire her now, I screamed

“Fire the bitch now” I said to my client.

Maybe not exactly those words (just using dramatic licence here like some of the movie makers).

“Why not fire her” is closer to what I said.

I generally don’t give specific tactical advice to my clients like this but I had to make an exception in this case.

My client, let’s call him Ian, has just started working out his 80:20 analysis and he was telling me about a client who he had to deal with the previous week. After hearing the story, I was thinking that this woman is like the ‘Bitch from hell’. In the interests of politeness, let’s just call her Cruella (as in Cruella De Val from “101 Dalmatians”).

Ian’s business designs web sites and offers social media services to clients. Now he would admit himself that he is ‘too nice’ with clients and will often work late or at short notice to keep clients happy. Does that sound familiar to you?

Ian had lots of jobs to complete for his profitable customers (whales) and had some of them planned for a Tuesday morning.

Cruella had previously bought the cheapest website she could get and did not want to pay for any on-going support to maintain her site. She showed up at his office demanding changes to her website, right now. Cruella has played this trick a few times before and she was at it again.

This is where being too nice is a problem. Cruella is a loss making customer and calling her a sardine seems an insult to sardines. Ian had whales to take care of but dropped everything to look after the sardine, Cruella.

I won’t even go into all the details but over the course of a few days and numerous phone calls and visits, Ian put a considerable amount of time into sorting out her website and still she was not happy. Finally when she seemed reasonably satisfied with the changes, she said to Ian “I hope you won’t be charging me too much for this work”.

It was at this point I thought (or uttered) “Fire the bitch right now”.

I’m sure you can see, as Ian does in hindsight, that dropping everything to look after this woman was a mistake. And in the long run, this woman may be a blessing in disguise as we are working on introducing new rules around the service levels different customers get.

And while she is an extreme example, Ian has other less obvious sardines.

Ian made the fatal mistake of feeding a sardine, while a hungry whale was waiting to be fed. In economics, they talk about opportunity cost – that the cost of choosing one thing is the loss of something else. Ian choosing to do the work for Cruella the sardine meant he could not do the work for his whales.

There is a huge lesson here, which I have always known. But seeing Ian’s experience with Cruella, brought it home to me again.

As a business owner, you may look at the sale and think “I can’t turn this away” or “Every sale is good”. But you’re not thinking about the time and effort that goes into looking after that sale.

By Ian saying “Yes” to Cruella, he was saying “No” to his whales. You can’t be feeding a sardine and a whale at the same time. No matter how many hours you work in your business, you can only work on one thing at a time.

Ian works very long hours and I know he has some quite profitable work and yet he is just scraping by. That must mean that he has lots of sardines, even if they are not all as bad as Cruella.

Every business has the likes of Cruella and other less obvious versions of her.

When you look at your business, do you see customers who are profitable and others who are loss makers?

In case you think your business is different, take it from me, “You’re not”.

What you do may be different but 80:20 applies to you as much as it does to Ian.

As well as losing you money, the sardines and Cruellas of this world can suck the life and energy out of you. Do you have customers who do this to you?

Why are you putting up with them?

With Ian, Cruella has got the boot and there will be more to follow. As well as getting rid of loss makers and freeing up capacity, the emotional relief of not dealing with these blood suckers is huge.

Do yourself a favour.

Identify your Cruella sardines and give them the boot.

Believe me, you won’t regret it.


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