Dumb Things Small Businesses Do
#4: Thinking It’s About You

chihuahua in goggles
Remember my hapless entrepreneur from last week? He dug himself a giant scary financial hole because he was so in love with his vision of his product that he didn’t bother to get any feedback from actual customers.

In fact, he tended to think of his customers as an annoying necessity. They kept calling with their stupid support questions, keeping him from spending his time adding features no one had asked for.

They didn’t read the brochures he sent them. They didn’t use his Web page the way he thought they should. They didn’t order the product as soon as a salesperson called. The salespeople had to keep walking stupid prospects through all these dopey objections they had.

His prospects and customers were just incredibly inconvenient to his vision of what the company ought to be.

How do you feel when you’re treated as an inconvenience?

Ever been treated this way by a business? I have, probably hundreds of times. It never fails to make my blood boil.

I had a salesman in a car dealership lie to me once about having an add-on product in stock, because he didn’t want the hassle of going to dig the unwieldy item out of the store room.

I will walk twenty miles to work rather than ever buy another car from that dealership. And hmm, you know what? I have a better option than that. It’s called buying from one of their many competitors.

Even if you’re Apple, it’s not about you

I don’t care how cool or exciting your product is, it’s never about you. It’s about the customers who pay your salary and your employees’ salary.

I talk a lot about marketing being like a relationship, but there’s one key difference: it’s not supposed to be equal. You’re the one who has to be considerate, to anticipate the other’s needs, to always give more than you get, to listen 90% of the time and talk 10% of the time.

In a real relationship, you’d be a doormat.

In a business relationship, you’ll be a hero.

7 Dumb Things Small Businesses Do

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  1. Ann Handley says:

    We’ve all had that demoralizing experience of being treated as an “inconvience,” haven’t we? Store clerks that seem annoyed when you interrupt their conversation, folks on the phone who just want to take your order and move on…

    Excellent point that the relationship between customer/business isn’t an equal one! Love this: “In a real relationship, you’d be a doormat. In a business relationship, you’ll be a hero.” Well said.

    Ann Handleys last blog post..Punk’d

  2. Frank Martin says:

    Terrific blog post, Sonia. You are 100% correct, and I started to wonder whether you share some of my clients!

    These are the same ones who look at me as if I had grown a third eye when I suggest actually talking to customers about how the products are used, what feature enhancements they would like, etc. The most tiresome clients I have are the incurious ones who have all the answers already, and wish people would just shut up and give them money.

    Love you blog – with your permission, I’d like to add you to my “Marketing Blogroll”


    Frank Martins last blog post..So…What IS Marketing?

  3. Sonia Simone says:

    Thanks Ann, so good to see you here!

    Frank, I would be honored. :) Yes, this particular gentleman was very frustrated with me. The kinds of things I was suggesting were essentially a foreign language to him, one he did not care to learn. I think what he really wanted was someone to give his salespeople a magic formula for cold-calling, but alas, that’s not in my skill set. I don’t have a problem with it, for the right situation, but it’s not something I’m remotely gifted at.

  4. James says:

    Sonia, great post.

    It’s also good to consider the nature of the relationship. We often use interpersonal relationships for the model of good business relationships. This is OK to a degree but should be tempered with the understanding that it’s a commercial relationship.

    Small businesses can easily fall into this trap since they are more likely to meet their customers. Delivering value in exchange for value is job one.

  5. JoVE says:

    Excellent point. And made me realize that the sales training I got many years ago when I was a part-time employee of a retail store was rather good. Things like focusing on the customer you are serving even if the phone is ringing. And making sure that even if they only spend a small amount, that they got good service so they’ll come back when they have more to spend.

    I’m now thinking of this in terms of that bit in your so-simple-it’s-stupid business plan guide. That product 1 might not be very expensive (and thus low risk for a new customer) but it is the opportunity to build a relationship and get feedback that will lead to further sales.

    JoVEs last blog post..What we can do to thank them…

  6. Judy Dunn says:

    I hear ya on this one, Sonia. Back in my teaching days, I liked preparing for lessons, getting cool graphics up on classroom bulletin boards, etc. but not so much working with my students.

    One day, as I was putting up yet another cool bulletin boar, I turned to my teacher friend and frowned.

    “I would love working here if just the kids didn’t show up every day.”

    Of course, my friend laughed hysterically. But in business, it can be the same way. We fall in love with our products, spend endless hours developing new ones. It might be easy to start thinking that the pesky customer is getting in our way.

    Nice reality check. Thanks.

  7. Great and very good. Only that I must add from personal, sad and non profitable at all experience, that there are some clients you’d better not keep. I mean there’s a limit for everything.

    Miguel de Luiss last blog post..Analytics: ?ledzimy wej?cia z kana?u RSS

  8. Miguel de Luis says:

    Err? something weird happened, that blog post in Polish? isn’t mine…

  9. Sonia Simone says:

    Hm, how very odd, Comment Luv must be having something weird happen. I’ll see if I can edit it out, thanks for letting me know about it.

  10. J.D. Meier says:

    From doormat to hero – I like it.

    I find that “task-oriented” people tend to focus on the “thing” or the “features”, while “people-oriented” people tend to focus on mapping the benefits. I think it’s an easy blind-spot to fix by consistently asking yourself the WIIFY question.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Design a Routine for Exceptional Thinking

  11. Kelly says:


    I love this post. I think it should be promoted from #4 to #1, because it’s really the thing I see small businesspeople struggling with most. Before “marketing” occurs to them, they’re already imagining how cool this new gig will be for them, without a thought as to whether they can make it cool for customers.

    That tendency to focus inward never goes away. “It’s all about me” is something that you have to consciously fight against throughout the growth of your business.

    Very well-said.



    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: And the Armor Weighs a Ton, Too…

  12. Sonia,
    You ar exactly right. It’s all about the product and the customer’s use of it. A positive example is that I ordered a fitness product online, but I wanted to change my order. I called the number and talked to a VERY helpful man. It was the evening before Thansgiving, and he spent 10 minutes fixing my order. Finally, I said “You’ve been wonderful. Are you the owner”? He replied “yes”. I knew it. It’s all about the customer, always, or find some other line of work!

    Here is a posting I made about Customer Support (relating to my software company)

  13. Jeff Rogers says:

    We’re all use to the poor customer service at Kentucky Fried Chicken and at Wal Mart. Don’t you think that’s one fundamental at the root of the problem? Self absorbed service providers should not attempt to provide services. Grrr….

    Jeff Rogerss last blog post..Fundamentals of Powerful Business Networking

  14. This is the lesson pounded into me when I was training to become a Dominos Pizza manager. It turned a “foreign object in pizza” complaint by a woman into a job application by her daughter (and a VERY loyal customer in the Mom).

    Later, when I got my own store, I received the 2nd highest award in my first month managing — despite having a driver mishandle a mystery customer.

    When a customer makes a purchase, it is special to them … dinner, lingerie, electronic components, fresh produce – it makes no difference what it is … let them know that it is special to you, too.

    They’ll be back.

  15. R says:

    Treating the customer politley is the aim for retail workers. However, after reading most of your blogs I have empathy for the poor clerk that has to put up with the self absorbed person that believes just because they are spending money in a establishment it gives them the authority to treat the staff like garbage. Get over yourselves,


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