Suspects, Prospects, Customers, Clients, and Partners

"Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher." - Oprah Winfrey

I group people with whom I do business into one of five categories. I am interested in all of them since you need all to succeed, but I am most interested in the last category because it’s not only the most profitable, it’s the most personally and professionally satisfying.


These are people you suspect might like to do business with you. You identify them because of some factor: They may live in your local area, receive a certain magazine, or be on a list that might make them look like possible prospects. Online, they might frequent the same chat rooms and discussion boards you do.


Prospects are people who essentially put up their hands and say, YES, I’m looking for a new place to eat, a carpenter, dance school, or new car. They have the need for whatever product or service you might provide.


Customers are people who buy from you occasionally, maybe even quite often, but they see you primarily as a vendor. They have no special connection to you or your business and might just as easily shop down the street.


Clients are people who buy from you repeatedly. They like you. They may be interested in your advice or comments on how to best use your product, or form a deeper relationship with your company. They will most likely refer you to others and some should be cultivated further into partners.


Partners work for the good of both parties. I call all of my customers partners because that’s really the only type of customer I want. Truly though, only a handful really are partners. Few of your customers and clients will ever become true partners either. They will say they are, they may even want to be, but they are not.

In my marketing business, when a partner is truly involved with us it results in the mutual success of both businesses. We refer business to them, and them to us. The success of our campaigns helps us generate more clients as much as it drives more revenue for our partners. When things don’t go as planned, both sides identify shortcomings rather than point fingers. Partners are engaged in the process of coming up with great offers and executing the programs. They understand that generating leads is only half the battle and that THEY must be responsible for lead conversions (sales).

Most people would rather this was not so. They would rather take all responsibility for success, but blame the “marketing” when things don’t go well. Every one of my partners has my cell phone number. Every one of my partners can call me seven days a week, but few ever do because when they do, they often find out that they have to work—that there are a great many things on their end that remain undone. They have to make decisions about offers, timing, and planning. They have to engage in SALES TRAINING to increase their staff’s performance, and I guess that most would simply rather not. Like most business owners, they are already up to their arses in alligators and they would rather have someone else just fix it.

I will go above and beyond in investing my personal time and effort, as well as leveraging all of my resources and connections, to help a partner succeed. Great partners stimulate each other. They share success stories, ideas, and leads. These are the type of “customers” you must strive to reach and it really doesn’t matter if you are in the marketing business, the restaurant business, or the flower shop business.

Look to cultivate your customers and clients to become partners. That’s where the money and satisfaction will come from.

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