Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Client Management

There are two sides (at least) to managing a consulting business. Finding new clients and determining which clients are not right for you.

That's right, I said it, not all clients are the right clients. I've had several computer consulting operations (and managed quite a few as well) over the years. Today, as I'm struggling to build yet another I've come to the conclusion that some clients just are not worth having.

Sure they provide some billable time and there's certainly a measure of revenue stream contribution, but when all is said and done, with some clients, you would have fared better had you not started the project.

Every business has a cost model, you have to know yours, know what works and even more importantly, what doesn't work.

A case in point. Last fall we set up a software package for a local company. Everything went fairly well at the start, but little by little as we progressed the client missed their deliverables to us. The software had some design problems (it was a brand new version) and the vendors tech support was virtually non-existent. So the project slowed, got farther and farther beyond the original scope of the project and everyone was unhappy.

A couple of points:
  • The software they'd chosen (we didn't *sell* it to them), they'd called us and asked us to procure, install and configure it. Was a new release (as in purchased on the day of release) and untested in the field.
  • The client assured us all of their office and remote PC's were Windows 2000 or XP professional (they weren't).
  • The client agreed to have all the equipment delivered to their office at a pre-arranged time so it could be taken off site and configured (it wasn't).
Well... Let's just say that everything that could have gone wrong, did. First and foremost was the software itself, not exactly ready for prime time and a tech support staff who's favorite answer was "We've not actually seen this product yet". Also an employee of the client 'reinstalling' Office and attempting a Windows reinstall. One PC so laden with Spyware it barely booted. Another (completed) PC had a power supply die a week later and the folks who repaired it attempted some sort of registry 'fix' that caused several applications (including the one we had contracted for) to begin having problems.

In a forensic look at this project I now know we should have never taken it on. We're geared up to work with much larger operations, take on a mission critical project and run with it from start to finish. There were too many hands in this stew, and the folks involved viewed 'any' PC problem as related to the new application software.

In the end, we resolved everything, got paid for our original contract and are attempting to move away from this particular client.

I always experience a sadness when this has to be done. I truly like nearly every client I've ever worked with, including this one. Some however, are just not a good fit for our operation.

We're application developers, that's the simple answer. We take an idea from vision to reality, that's what we do. How did we get involved with this particular client then? Well, initially they'd indicated they would want a considerable amount of Crystal reports work, in addition to some .Net development, once the initial project was complete. In the final analysis, what they really wanted was an 'on-call' desktop support vendor... That is definitely not us!

So it's as much business management, as it is client management. In order to effectively manage the business and to have the resources to succeed with the clients who are a fit, you have to manage, cultivate and work with the type of client that fits your business model.

For those of us who've experienced some very lean years in this roller-coaster ride of a career, it's hard to turn away a potential project. I'll be looking at every project, for quite a whole, with this rule. If it's not a development project, it's not for us.

Thoughts, ideas? What's your take on this? I'd like to know!


Braleigh said...

My knowledge of both the business and computer world is completely non-existant. But what you're saying about holding out for strong developmental prospects makes a lot of sense, even if you have to turn down clients.

Bill said...

Thanks Braleigh... it is tough to do though.. especially when the dogs are at the door. I'm convinced however that the time spent on 'non-core' type clients is much better spent seeking out the right clients.

I think the concept extends into interpersonal aspects as well... how often have you thought "what a waste" after spending time with folks who did not fit in at all with your personal philosophy(s)...

Hmmmmm... I may even think about that a little more.. and write something more :)