Anyone who has spent time in sales or customer support can recall a few customers who always demand more than others or are just notoriously stingy. Chances are that all life science companies have some, and they’re all cutting into your profits. While a few extra service calls or the occasional negotiated discount might not be that bad, when this type of behavior is repeated or taken to an extreme customers can become unprofitable. This effect is aggravated by a very common practice: cross-selling.
Denish Shah and V. Kumar from the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University published an article in the Journal of Marketing which analyzed data from five Fortune 1000 companies. Their research showed that while only about one in five customers who cross-buy are unprofitable, those that are account for approximately 70% of companies’ total loss from customers. While cross-selling increases profitability from good customers, it also increases losses from bad ones.
Who are these unprofitable problem customers? There are many types, but in the life sciences we have noticed some that have a history of returning items, not making complete payments, demanding an inordinate amount of time from sales and service personnel, or requesting many demos or free trials before making only a small purchase.
The solution to minimizing the losses from these customers is not to stop cross-selling, and the authors of the aforementioned study note that cross-selling is definitely profitable in the aggregate, but it highlights the fact that there are such things as bad customers and companies need to shed them. However, unprofitable customers need to be flagged by sales, support, and / or marketing (this can be done very simply and easily in just about any CRM system) and these customers should either not be marketed to or should be “upsold” more profitable products to compensate. In some circumstances, especially for service companies, relationships with clients may need to be terminated altogether.
No matter what you do to limit the customer losses, do not cut back on service. It’s better to let unprofitable clients go than to offer poor or lacking service. Letting a customer go effects you one time. Poor service can leave a much larger impact.
Your company almost certainly has some problem clients, but chances are you probably wouldn’t be able to come up with a list. By keeping track of your problem customers and taking appropriate action to mitigate them, you’ll be able to increase your profitability with a very low expenditure of effort.