When You’re an Employee, You Only Have One Customer


Ever since my father took me to the office one Saturday morning at the age of 4, I wanted a job.  It dawned on me:  so that’s where the quarters and dollars Daddy doled out to me came from.  Cool.  Sadly, I was not invited back, as my fascination / love of technology with buttons also began with that visit:  I destroyed a large electronic adding machine by pressing too many buttons at once.  It was exciting, especially when it started smoking and whining.  I gained the reputation from that toddler experience with the male members of my family of being unreliable around machinery, which was totally unfounded and unfair.  Ask my husband Joel:  I am End-User Support for our house and can resurrect even the most hopeless computer fiascoes, most of the time.

So while most of my contemporaries in high school were wringing their hands next to the phone waiting for a boy to call for a date (or not), I engaged in the exact same ritual with a potential employer.

I asked my father for advice, as he was (and still is) a whiz at getting jobs.   It’s always the same advice, it just took several decades to sink in:  “If you make 30 calls, and you get one sale, you’re doing great,”  he’d dictate.  “What does that mean, Dad?”  I asked, confused.  “I’m not selling anything, I’m not a salesman.”  Dad smiled.  “Yes, you are:  you’re selling yourself.  And you know how to do it, because you’re my daughter. You’re just not concentrating.”  I still didn’t get it, clearly befuddled.  Dad spelled it out for me.  “Don’t focus on one company:  apply to as many companies as you can.  That way, you increase your chances of getting a job, and you don’t drive yourself crazy waiting for one guy to call you back and hire you.  Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”

Communication gap bridged, I got it.  It involved a lot more work applying and interviewing at many other companies, but it sure beat the soul- and energy-sucking anxiety of sitting next to the phone waiting for a call from just one potential employer.

Recently, as I was in the middle of a career coaching session with a good colleague, I took my father’s advice one step further.  The presenting challenge was how to best frame a proposal to their manager (Read:  Customer) on their next career step up the organizational ladder, with the accompanying increase in compensation.  I coached Good Colleague that the proposal should meet both their needs as well as the profitability needs of their organization.  “What if my manager rejects my proposal?”  Good Colleague asked.  “Well, then maybe you’ve outgrown the organization, and it’s time to look outside the organization,”  I replied.  Good Colleague was dismayed.  “But I don’t want to leave the organization, I love it there,” they said.  Good Colleague, like Dad, is in Sales / Business Development.

I thought for a moment.  “If that’s the case, then you only have one Customer.  And from a business development standpoint, we all know how dangerous it is to bank your success on one Customer.”  Good Colleague nodded.  “You don’t have to necessarily leave the organization right now:  but there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to colleagues in your industry, to ask their advice and grow new and existing relationships,”  I continued.  “At minimum, you’ll make some great connections and build your reputation if your current manager ends up accepting your proposal, and at maximum, you’ll be prospecting for new potential Customers.  It might be a job; it might be a project; or it might be a business that you’ll start and grow.  The Customer potential is only limited by your willingness to try.”

How many Customers do you have?  And are you keeping those Customer relationships warm and mutually rewarding by meeting everyone’s profitability and success needs?

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