How to be a good customer
I've burned lots of electrons talking about how to be a good vendor. I've even gotten some shall we say, pointed comments from vendors about being "slapped around."
Fact is, it is a two way street.
I was talking to vendors and end users last night at the Will-DuPage ISA Tabletop Show in Joliet IL. There were a couple of signs that the economy is improving. First, there was a typically good attendance, both of vendors and customers. Second, we held it at Harrah's hotel and casino, and the tables and slots were jumping on a Thursday night. Some people obviously have money and are spending it. We can hope that these signs are real indicators, just like we can hope that the fact that orders for cars have been flat for nearly two and a half months indicates that we've reached the bottom as far as the automotive sector is concerned. When credit eases up, car sales will go up. And that's from these electrons to God's ear.
One of the conversations I had repeatedly with vendors was about finding "good customers." That is, customers who value the things other than lowest price that a vendor can bring to the party. I noted Jacques Werth's High Probability Selling maxim that there are more customers out there than any vendor can conceivably get to in a reasonable amount of time, and suggested that it was certainly within the bounds to politely explain to customers how the vendor wanted to do business with them-- and if the customer made it clear that they didn't want to do business that way, simply thank them and go on to the next customer. Werth and others have done enough research to show that maximizing profit comes from maximizing selling time to profitable accounts, and not trying to sell to people who won't be profitable accounts or who don't want to buy, at least right now. That works in the midst of a recession, too.
So, what does it mean to be a good customer? A good customer/good vendor relationship is a win-win relationship. If the relationship is too one-sided, to either side, somebody is being taken advantage of, and the relationship will be fraught with sturm und drang and will end, usually with unfriendly partings. But if the relationship is between equals and the value received by each side of the relationship is essentially equal, the relationship can be stable and firm and rewarding for all concerned for many years.
I remember one time providing a customer's purchasing agent with the business card of my chief competitor, procured specifically for that purpose. The customer's modus operandi was to beat price concessions out of the vendors at almost any cost. The purchasing agents were specifically rewarded, not on how well they procured, but on the average discount they were able to obtain. After several years, I was able to prove to my management that we were actually losing money on every sale to this customer. I went in, presented my competitor's business card, and told the chief purchasing agent that I thought he'd be far better served working with my competitor.
Generally speaking, a "good vendor" will take better care of a "good customer" than a bad one, and a "good customer" understands that the taking of care is a mutual aid relationship. Service, solutions, support all depend to a great extent on how good the relationship of mutual respect and trust is between the seller and the buyer.
People don't always understand how this works, both as vendors and as customers. It is during recessions and other adverse economic situations that the good vendors and good customers show themselves. Good vendors take care of their customers, and good customers take care of their vendors.