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Building Your Business By Refusing Customers

September 19, 2019

You guys sell a reservation system for rafting companies, right?

Well, we’re still developing it, but yes, that’w what we’re working on.

I’d like to sign up to use your software.

I’m sorry. I can’t let you do that.

Why not?

It was crazy. My software sold for $10,000 per copy. We were a few months away from releasing version 1.0 and we were running on Angel Investor money. Our burn rate was about $30,000 per month. And we’d burned close to $1,000,000 in the two year development of our product.

New customers were the lifeblood of any company and here I was turning away someone who called me and practically begged me to sell her a copy.

The product was called RESMARK. We released version 1.0 and thanks to our patient investor, we lived to release future version. It still exists today. (

VAPORWARE: A product that doesn’t yet exist, but that people act like it does. (Microsoft circa 1990s)

No comparison is quite so stark as comparing a finished software product to its originally design document. My software was no different. It’s true we were building a reservation system for rafting companies. But, as we worked toward our release date, we had to make compromises.

At one point I realized I no longer had a feature set to satisfy even one of my ten beta testers. They had each put up $5,000 and were given the promise that they would be able to provide input into the development process.

My solution was to go on an extended roadtrip. I visited each rafting company who had signed up for my software. I explained to each of them what our current status was. I was able to save 9 of the 10 companies.

So, why not take the $5,000 and sign up a new client?

Because no clients are better than an unhappy client. And that’s what I was going to get. The company that called me was an adventure company, but they rented out bikes and canoes and kayaks.

My software was designed to track reservations for rafting trips. Despite my prospective client’s insistance that she’d be happy with whatever version 1.0 was like, I knew that she would not.

Maybe you woud call it playing the long game, or seeing the forest instead of the trees. Or maybe, you’d call it focusing on winning the war instead of a battle.

I called it, “I don’t want to disappoint another customer.” I also realized that any short-term gain I could get would quickly be overshadowed by not being able to keep the client happy.

Better to have one happy customer rather than 100 unhappy ones.

And better a non-customer than a disappointed one.

Sometimes your best customer is the one you didn’t sell to.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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