I help brands tell short stories with timeless truth.

Which comes first: the Customer or the Lead?

Don't worry, this isn't another paradox. Unlike "the chicken or the egg" riddle, every business can decide the answer to this question. But beware: this could make you rethink everything... Let's start with a story.

I recently moved after living in my old apartment for six years. Why so long you ask? Well, partly because it was a great place, etc, etc. But, if I'm really honest, a major motivator was the fact that moving sucks! While most of us dislike the feeling of living in disarray, for me, I tend to feel a bit lost without WiFi. Anyone else? ... Anyone? And so began the dreaded ordeal of moving—and with it—scheduling my internet installation. Sadly, it's become an excepted part of life that internet service providers are the worst! Or at least as bad as the DMV.

When I called customer service I was given two options: "Press 1" if you're a new customer inquiring about our services, or "Press 2" if you're an existing customer and have questions about your account. Naturally, I press "2". Next I hear, "All of our representatives are currently busy assisting other customers, please wait while we transfer you to the next available representative." Cue the elevator music. Sound familiar? After waiting nearly 45 minutes on the phone, the call eventually disconnected. "Son of a B@#$*!" I think. "Well... at least I don't have to listen to that crappy elevator music anymore. Maybe live chat can help?"

Ultimately, I endured the waiting game so the operator could tell me they don't service my new address. "Really? I'm only a mile and a half away from my old address!?" I explained. By this time, I'd spent nearly 90 minutes trying to set up a simple transfer of service. But now I had a meeting to get to and I had to go... Mission un-accomplished! As I drove to my meeting, I couldn't help but wonder, "What would have happened if I pressed option #1 as a new customer inquiring about their services for the first time?" The cynic in me says, "I'll tell you what would have happened, they would have answered that damn phone!" Of course, I'm speculating, but it's probably true. And it got me thinking: "Which comes first, the customer or the lead?"

Like most people, I used to think the goal of business was to get more customers. It seems logical enough because, traditionally speaking, businesses do spend a great deal of time, money, and effort trying to attract new customers. After all, this is the way businesses grow, right? According to Ron Baker—prolific author of numerous books surrounding value pricing and how to create knowledge firms of the futurebusinesses expend all their efforts winning new leads because they think their profits come from growth. But in fact, the opposite is actually true. Growth and profitability doesn't come with scale, it comes from the commitment to delight existing customers. This simple statement will blow up your business paradigm if you let it. It has certainly shattered mine (in a good way).

Think about it, if we're letting new leads take the majority of our resources, often jumping through hoops (by any means necessary) to convince them that we're the right business for them, we're simply leaving leftovers for current customers. This is the equivalent of calling a customer service hotline and giving leads priority access via option #1. Why do businesses do this? It probably has something to do with the fact that most sales strategies incentivize benchmarks for "closing new leads." Essentially, we're trying to give the best possible experience to "convert" new customers, meanwhile current customers get put on hold.

We do this in our personal relationships too though, don't we? We put our best foot forward when we're dating because we want a long term relationship that brings with it all the benefits of trust, loyalty and security. Though once we've got it, human nature sets in and it becomes increasingly easy to neglect, forgetting what we've got until it's gone. But it doesn't have to be this way! We can change the way we view our customers, starting with seeing them as priority relationships. Shouldn't we spend our effort thinking of ways to innovate customer experience instead? Shouldn't we roll out the red carpet and give current customers "cuts" in the proverbial wait line of leads?

Let's change the way we treat customers. Let's create new ways to add value that continually remind them why they're with us, and why they've made the right choice! Who's with me? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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