If you think about it for a moment, there is a big difference between the two descriptions and the distinction can have huge implications for a business, including yours.

Here are two definitions from the online Oxford Dictionary:

  • Client: a person or organisation using the services of a lawyer or other professional person or company
  • Customer: a person who buys goods or services from a shop or business

Which would you rather have more of in your business?

If you think about it for a moment, there is a big difference between the two descriptions and the distinction can have huge implications for a business, including yours.

Do you want to be transactional or trusted?

When you look at the two descriptions, it implies that clients are choosing their professional supplier on the basis of valued expertise. Very few people or businesses would think about representing themselves in legal proceedings. Why? Because they don’t have the expertise, the skills and knowledge that comes from years of study and experience of the law.

So, they choose a firm, who they think has the specialist skills and success rate that will help them to win their case.

In other words they put their trust and their money into a chosen company. You could also say that they select a firm to be their partner in the situation that they need to deal with.

This isn’t usually the case with the mindset of a customer.

Transactional buyers

Here’s another definition; this is for transaction.

“An instance of buying or selling something.”

And this definition highlights the situation that many ESSA members may feel themselves to be in.

They see their products or services being purchased as one-offs. They have customers who make purchases based on what they need for an upcoming show or conference. These purchasers are not particularly bothered about who supplies what they want as long as the quality matches what they have in mind and ….. if the price is right.

The price being right is most often the driving force of this decision-making process. It’s certainly one of the big factors in the final purchasing decision, whether this be for a pull-up banner or 5000sqm of shell scheme.

In this scenario, unlike the client situation, the purchase choice is much less personal; it’s much more about the money.

There is no value placed on the expertise of the other party. The buyer can say “there’s lots of other places I can go for this.” They may become repeat customers in the future or you may you never hear from them again. Or, you might be invited to quote the next time they put their shell scheme, carpet or electrics out to tender.

Why the client model is better for most businesses

Unless you specialise and are focused on always being the lowest cost supplier in the market for whatever your business does, (an Amazon style model), then positioning your company in the trusted advisor category, is commercially, a much sounder strategy.

The characteristics of clients

1. Clients buy because they value the expertise of the other company
2. Clients will take advice and often, they want advice
3. The cost of the service is not the main priority. It is a factor but achieving a successful outcome is more important to clients
4. Clients are more likely to become repeat and long-term purchasers
5. Satisfied clients are much more likely to recommend your business to other people if their experience has been good

When you think about the characteristics of customers and place them against the qualities of clients as listed above, they tend to be the exact opposite. Except for point 2, which many independent bricks and mortar retailers know to their cost.

In this case, potential customers are very happy to ask the retailer a myriad of questions but with little intention of buying from them unless the retailer later matches the lowest price found online or elsewhere.

The potential customer just wants a lot of free advice to aid their purchase decision and they have no qualms about where they get the advice. Talk about adding insult to injury! This is commodity style purchasing in action and it’s why retail is currently so tough. The race to the bottom mindset for prices is rampant. This is a game that event supply businesses should avoid playing wherever possible.

The way to do that, to get on the path to being valued for what you do, is to build trust.

How do you build trust?

You do it by consistently marketing your business in a way that shows the benefits and advantages that you bring to the people who buy what you do.

You switch the emphasis from the thing you sell i.e. graphics or shell scheme to the benefits that your client obtains by working with you as the specialist professional expert that you or your business actually is.

You show how easy you make this particular part of business life easy for your clients. The time and stress you save them. The improvement in results that you can help them achieve. How professional they will look in the eyes of their boss and colleagues.

This is in essence what content marketing is all about. It’s not directly selling a particular service or product because then you stray into an area where you can be commoditised. Instead you lead and inspire by the use of case studies, client stories, research findings, surveys, images, videos - anything that you can use to educate and inform your prospective clients about how your business can solve their problems.

Believe me, this is still selling and it’s not airy, fairy either. It is the type of marketing that attracts clients, not customers. Decide which you would rather have more of in your business. If you want more clients, start looking for ways to build, promote and attract that trust.

The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ESSA, its members, board or staff. Our members represent a broad range of views within the event industry, and we have provided this section of the website for their opinions to be openly heard and discussed.

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