No, the customer is not always right. Here’s why.

Question… when there is a disagreement between you and a customer that threatens the contract, how do you resolve it?


Or, when a prospect is pushing a one-sided agenda on a big deal, what do you do?


I’ve seen a lot of salespeople and startup leadership alike consciously or subconsciously turn to this century-old adage for guidance:


“The customer is always right.”


While I know firsthand how easy and relieving it can be to heed this advice when the pressure to close the deal is on, I can say with certainty that it’s also the worst to fall back on in moments like these.


There are a couple of reasons why I know this is the case, several of which have been reinforced by experiences I’ve had throughout my career. That said, here are three reasons why this is a proverb to forget.


There is such a thing as bad business.


This phrase “the customer is always right” was popular among retail moguls like Marshall Field back in the early 1900s. And while its intentions were good (to encourage a higher level of customer service), even as early as 1914 people were pointing out its fatal flaw: it assumes that customers are always honest or realistic.


Don’t get me wrong… I always assume the best about people until proven otherwise. But you and I both know neither of things is always true.


I find this is the first thing many salespeople forget when a deal is on the line and the prospect is demanding. But the truth is, it’s ok and even good for you to push back when the other party is being unreasonable.


Take the CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher for instance. He was handed the complaint of a customer who often flew Southwest and made sure to complain about something every time she did.


Rather than spending his time trying to please one petty customer out of their millions of good ones every month, he simply wrote her a note that read ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’


The truth is, many salespeople (and startup leadership for that matter) struggle to cut off bad business like this because the pressure of their targets is looming.


(Note: this is exactly why unattainable sales targets are so deadly).


But what they and their startup leadership often don’t realize is that succumbing to bad business for the sake of “hitting their numbers” or “getting the business” actually makes their life more difficult in the long run.


Here’s why.


Bad customers kill your efforts to scale.


Another reason why customers are not always right is because you simply can’t please everyone. But what many people forget is that trying to will cost you more than it will make you in the long run.


Bad (or even mediocre) business usually doesn’t last. A customer who isn’t excited about the solution you offer simply won’t be with you for long, especially if and when something better comes along.


Furthermore, demanding clients take more energy to support – energy that could be spent finding and working with customers that really love your solution and will be lower maintenance instead.


And all of this makes it harder to scale since you don’t have a solid foundation of repeat business to launch upward from… you’re always trying to maintain what you have instead.


This is exactly why I will always support the notion that quality comes before quantity in sales. When you execute each deal to perfection with the right customers, you’ll be able to stack revenue and scale much quicker than you would if you’re busy trying to deal with headaches.


Bad customers make it harder to engage with new ones.


What happens when a Youtube video or a meme goes viral? Why does one do so when another does not?


Believe it or not, scientists are actually studying this. And one of the key things they’ve found is that the intensity and positivity of a piece of content is directly related to the chance of it going viral.


While your product is not a meme, this mechanism is VERY important to keep in mind for two reasons:


  1. More than 70% of the B2B buying process happens before a customer engages a salesperson these days, meaning your customers are going to hear about you before they talk to you.
  2. Positive brand awareness means you won’t have to work as hard to engage prospects with your message since you will have the support of a brand presence to pave the way for you.


But if you’re engaging with customers who aren’t the right fit or are just difficult to work with, it’s going to be awfully hard to create any positivity at all, making it harder for you to connect with your market on multiple levels.


Bottom line: engage with the right customers and everything gets easier. And even more so over time.

Final thoughts.


The key takeaway here is that saying “no” to customers who aren’t the right fit is one of the most important things you’ll ever learn to do as a salesperson or entrepreneur. Bad business exists, and it is deadly for your growth.


But if you engage with the people who appreciate and can really use what you offer, your life gets much much easier. In fact, it will help you build a much stronger foundation to grow from as a business or as a salesperson.


Sales leaders and startup leaders: another key takeaway for you here is to make sure you’re enabling your team to say “no.” Without the support of reasonable sales targets and blocking and tackling internally, this gets a lot harder for them to do.


-Amy Volas