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What if you lost your best customer?

by | Jul 7, 2019 | CEO Role, Improving Competitiveness, Management Issues, Profit Improvement

It’s helpful to find new ways to center your attention, because it can be so difficult to maintain your focus. This exercise may help.

Planning to lose sales

Our consulting business has been greatly enhanced by companies suffering the unexpected loss of a major customer.

No one ever expects to lose a major account, but long-term relationships often end with no warning. Mergers, corporate relocations, changes in buying influences or just a more capable competitor — all can cost you an account.

No matter how good your relationships might feel with your major clients, those clients can evaporate, and no one’s to blame. With no warning and no loud noises, business may just disappear.

Through no fault of your own, you’ll inevitably find yourself facing a turnover in your existing sales. You won’t know where the erosion will appear, but you can fairly well count on that erosion occurring. It’s becoming the new normal, so why not plan for it?

The IBM query

A few decades ago, IBM was considered the most forward-looking company in the world. They ran very thoughtful advertisements designed to help executives think about their business challenges.

One ad featured a silver-haired executive looking very reflective, and asked:

“What would you do if you lost your best customer?”

And then followed up with:

“Why not do that anyway?”

Crises can be useful

The US economy fully recovered from The Great Depression only when World War II required mustering our full industrial strength.

The crisis focused our economy’s energy and creativity. And when the war was over, the economy continued a remarkable period of growth — still fueled by the wartime advances.

I don’t recommend creating a crisis in your company, but perhaps a thought experiment can put you in the right frame of mind to make some breakthroughs in your own thinking: ”What would you do if you lost your best customer?”

  • Would you examine your existing customer base for added opportunities?
  • Would you look more closely for new business opportunities in your sales pipeline?
  • Would you examine your selling process and your sales staff to see whether an overhaul might be required?
  • Would you take a look at your sales strategy, or at your broader position in the marketplace?
  • Would you look for new markets to penetrate? Would you examine your marketing efforts to evaluate how you’re positioned in your existing markets?

None of these questions is particularly novel. But CEOs rarely take the time to engage in this kind of reflection until they’re confronted by a crisis.

It may not be too late to fix the problem, but it certainly isn’t the optimal time to be facing such issues after a crisis has already arisen.

The IBM query

What would you do if you lost your best customer?

Why not do that anyway?

What if? Why not?

So go ahead and give yourself the gift of reflection before it’s an emergency:

What would you do if you lost your best customer?

Why not do that anyway?

Build a sturdy sales plan for replacing major accounts before they disappear, and build your sales forecasts around some account evaporation. If once every few years you don’t need it, you’ll feel really smart. But don’t count on it!


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