Q: customer acquisition versus customer retention?

As any business owner will tell you, usually through allegory, analogy or cliche, running a business is a balancing act, like spinning plates. And they’re not wrong! You’re either generating leads or doing the work. And of the latter, which is the most important — customer acquisition or customer retention.

Personally, I don’t think it’s as simple as “or” but actually “versus”, because for the most part, they conflict with and exclude each other.

It’s a contentious subject, and it’s a subject I’ve been aware of more subconsciously than anything else. And thanks to an article on the Marketing Donut asking where the priority lies in customer acquisition or customer retention, I had a mind to comment:

“If you’re a small business just starting out, many will have no clients, or perhaps only a small selection, so their efforts absolutely must fall into the pursuit of new customers.

For the established businesses like Octane, new clients can be a diversion from the main focus, which is that of servicing the loyal band of clients I’ve had, in some cases, for over ten years.

For the very large businesses — and here I’m thinking of telecommunications and utilities giants — customer loyalty is almost an anathema; they simply cannot afford to dedicate time and resources to consumers or small businesses.

I never set out with the intention of being a big business, or of being a business that deals with big companies, because I know first hand where that can lead. And in the end, you’re not living a lifestyle, but chasing money, and that’s not for me.”

Just to clarify that last paragraph, while I don’t exclude large businesses as clients, I have to be wary of engaging with them, given my size relative to theirs. Also, when you deal with large businesses, you’re often not dealing with the decision makers, and that for me is almost a total waste of my time.

Why? Because for the most part, I need a very direct dialogue with the people I’m dealing with, something that not all appreciate or welcome. And then there are the questions I ask which are either outside the remit of or not immediately answerable by the people I may be dealing with.

Right now, entering into 2011, my priorities are firmly with three clients, all of which have invested heavily with Octane in so far as the projects I’m working on at the moment.

So when new work comes along, the conversion I have will be an honest one — I’ve prioritised my loyalty to those clients who’ve been loyal to me.