Earn This

The dying words of Captain John Miller to Private James Ryan that he carried with him the rest of his life.

In business relationships, when do we earn it?  In this case, the “it” I’m referring to is the right to challenge.  The right to push back.  The right to expect that your customer or prospect owes you a quid pro quo.

How much value do you need to deliver in the sales process before it’s your customer’s turn to reciprocate?  As a customer, I say it’s my prerogative to decide when that happens.  As a general rule, sellers need to take their queues and signals from their prospects.

Of course, with every rule there are a slew of exceptions.  If a seller’s Spidey sense tingles with the feeling that his prospects or customers are taking advantage or being unreasonably demanding, he’s well within his right to back off or gracefully disengage.

But until you’ve built a trust, until you’ve earned the right in your prospects eyes, directly challenging him or expecting something from him in return for you doing what you’re supposed to do to earn his business is really not going to get you anywhere.

So, if you’re of the mindset that your date should automatically spend the night in return for that nice dinner, tell me up front.  Sorry, I’m not your girl.


  1. I'm with you Barry…well, sort of.

    I believe that in every service encounter, the customer has a role to play, their own work to do, in order to "earn their keep". If you walk into a lawyer's office for representation, yet fail to tell her the truth, you really can't begrudge a negative outcome.

    On the other hand, "trust" and "relationship" – those are absolutely earned via a history – long or short – of consistently made and kept service promises.

    I'd guess that for a majority of its purchasers, iPad was not their 1st Apple buy. Apple has earned that trust through repeated delivery on its service (and product) promise. On the other hand, I may pass on the McEscargot if the fast food chain hasn't earned enough trust to warrant the leap I'm about to take.

    In any service encounter, a customer has to give some in order to get a successful outcome. But a relationship? That is only earned through consistent delivery on commitments.

  2. Chris- right on! I believe the relationship (like any other) has to be a two way street. In the early stages, the seller needs to extend further to build the type of confidence ultimately given to companies like Apple. If the Mac was wraught with bugs and crashed all the time (Vista), customers would not provide them the forum to innovate like they do.

    In terms of customer responsibilities, I think Sy Sims said it best "an educated consumer is our best customer"

    thank you my friend.

  3. When do you earn it? In business relationships you never stop having to earn it. Even when you think you've earned it, the customer or prospect will most likely make you earn it all over again the next time you do business.

    The customer always holds the cards and that's the bottom line because usually they're credit cards.


  4. WTC – Absolutely. And, while I don't necessarily adhere to the premise that 'the customer is always right', I agree that the customer has the final say in continuing the relationship in most cases.

    However, that poses an interesting question. Verizon Wireless got raked over the coals a while back for 'firing' some of its most unprofitable customers. I read that and didn't see the problem with it. While it was a PR nightmare, why should a company be forces to continue to do business with customers that cost them money and don't bring anything to the relationship?

    Just as in dating, the beginning of the courtship usually finds one party 'working harder' in pursuit of the affections of the other. While as the relationship matures, it becomes more equitable as both sides need to continue to get something out of it.

    So, we have no problem with, in fact we applaud, customers for giving companies the boot. We expect companies to not have the same right. Let's face it, business does not equal non-profit. And profit pursuit, in and of itself, is not a dirty word. There are better ways to approach it that are more customer centric. But in the end, its a bottom line game.

    It comes down to a matter of timing, in terms of expectations, in my mind.

    Thanks for the comment.

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