6 Business Quotes That Don’t Fly Anymore

April 22, 2011

I always get a chuckle out of those cliché business tidbits. You know the ones, you see them on the screen at a business learning event, or hear them from your uncle Henry who was in business back when they were inventing dirt. Maybe you have even shared a few of them with your own staff. Though some of these may have been true once upon a time, some of them never were. Here is a brief list of some “business wisdom” that is far from wise in the present day business climate.

The customer is always right.

This is a big one, and I’m sure I’ll create some controversy by contradicting it. Let me preface this by saying that great, industry-leading customer service is probably one of the most important qualities your business can have. I’ve read and enjoyed Delivering Happiness, just like everyone else, and I’m not denying this. I am, however, contesting the absolute assertion. I hate to say it, but in the nearly 8 years I have worked in B2C, I have encountered a number of customers who are, plain and simple, wrong. How is this possible?

  • Some customers issue chargebacks before giving you a chance to make it right
  • Some customers engage in “Friendly Fraud“
  • Some customers damage or misuse products, then denounce them as defective
  • Some customers blatantly lie

Now, I love my customers just as much as the next small business owner, but along about the third or fourth time someone returns an item “damaged during shipping” – after 3 weeks – and you can see visible signs of use, you begin to realize – some customers are wrong. Sorry, Tony.

Buy low, sell high, bill early, pay late.

No way. You can buy and sell at whatever price you want – that’s your business model, and if you decide to be on the higher end of the pricing spectrum, I understand. That’s my model of choice, too. But billing early and paying late – therein lies the problem. Billing early will send your customers to vendors who trust them. If a customer has proven to be trustworthy, extend them reasonable terms, and don’t try to collect any earlier.

As for paying late – don’t ever do it. Everyone sends the occasional late payment here and there, but if you are habitually late, you had better hope your volume justifies the hassle you are causing your vendor, because they have their own suppliers to pay on the 31st. Furthermore, many companies offer a 1-2% early pay discount. When you do $30K a month with a vendor, that’s real money. If your vendors aren’t already offering an early-pay discount, ask them to. If you want to be paid early, extend the same to your customers.

I know half of my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half.”
John Wanaker

This may have been true 100 years ago, but today, you won’t make it in business if you are this clueless. With such finely tuned advertising mediums as Facebook, where you can specify exactly the people you wish to market to (Women aged 29-41 living in San Francisco who have a cat that suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, for example), there is no excuse for waisting advertising dollars. Compound this with Google Analytics, an incredible (and free) tool that tells you who, what, when, where, how, why, in what way, and for how long people visit your site, there is no excuse for blindly throwing mud at the wall and hoping it sticks.

Now, if print, direct response, or event marketing is still the norm in your industry, I can see how there may be some overspray in your marketing budget. Nonetheless, anyone you advertise with should have pretty good data on their readership, their attendees, and their demographics. Furthermore, you can (and probably should) be gathering data about where people find you.

There is no such thing as bad publicity.

While I do agree that negative reviews and comments about your business can be great opportunities for your company’s public relations, there is still such a thing as bad publicity. If someone reviews your product negatively, it gives you an opportunity to come back and explain. If someone is dissatisfied with your service, it gives you the chance to learn and demonstrate your willingness to “make it right” – publicly. All this is true – within reason. If a respected industry expert reviews your product and suggests that customers purchase your competitor’s instead, you’ll have a hard time spinning that as anything good. If your product injures someone, you won’t be running to a PR firm because you have such good publicity.

Every customer is a good customer.

Not even close. I, like Tim Ferriss, subscribe to Pareto’s Law. Also known as the “80-20 rule,” Pareto’s Law can be applied to business, in that 80% of your customers yield 20% of the profit; the converse is true, as well. More importantly, 20% cause 80% of the headaches, and vice versa.

Many very successful companies have harnessed this idea. Best Buy is notorious for firing what it calls “Demon” customers. This is the stuff of legend, and I have heard business school lectures about this acclaimed business strategy. Sprint famously dropped 1,000 of their worst customers. The moral: don’t be ashamed if you feel you aren’t able to meet a customer’s needs – especially if you feel they are unreasonable. If you are able to identify specific customers as more hassle than they are worth, politely tell them to take their business elsewhere. Use the extra time you save to improve the customer experience for your other 80%.

We need to think outside the box.

I loathe this cliché. I really do. The first way you can think unconventionally is to find a new metaphor.

More importantly, successful businesses don’t just think outside the box, they reinvent the box. They come out with more innovative, more creative, and more exciting ways to look at a problem – and then sell it. There were a lot of MP3 players out there before Apple came along. The same is true of Facebook and social networks, Google and search engines. Throw away the box and get to work on inventing the next bag.

What business quotes do you find the be throwaways? What pieces of business advise was once good and is now, well, junk?

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