Monday, August 01, 2022

What Makes a Perfect Client?

An Ode to CLFP

Over my long IT consulting career, I have had many great clients. I’ve had clients who let my daughter hang out in the conference room when she was little. I’ve had clients who sent technicians home with boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve had clients that fed my employees lunch if they happened to be visiting on a Friday. I’ve celebrated weddings and funerals for clients over the years.

We are, after all, a small business doing business with real people.

I’ve always kept a calendar of the first month that I billed a client for services, so we could celebrate major anniversaries. And this month, August, I remember my favorite client of all time: The California League of Food Processors or CLFP. I first started working for them in August of 1999. I was brought in by another IT consultant who wanted to focus on supporting their line of business application – IMIS. But he had found himself dragged “off task” to supporting the hardware that ran the IMIS program, and then other technology around the office. He knew this was not his long suit, and he didn’t want to do it.

So he brought me in and eventually convinced the powers that be to sign a contract with me. Shortly thereafter, Janet joined CLFP and began working her way up in the hierarchy. I think somewhere around 2000, Janet was the longest-standing employee of CLFP. And that meant that I, by a few months, had been there longer than any employees. Last month, Janet retired from CLFP (although she’s not nearly retirement age). 

Somewhere along the line, Laura went to work for CLFP. She eventually left when she fell in love with my brother (who worked for me at the time) and he dragged her off to Florida. But as recently as last year, CLFP still lures her back to work on special projects for a week or two.

I do very little work for CLFP these days, having sold my managed service business. But I still manage several domains and all of their DNS. For one thing or another, I’ve sent them an invoice every year since 1999. But that’s not why they’re my favorite client of all time.

CLFP is my favorite client because they fit my model perfectly. 

  • They are technology dependent, and they know it. That means they stand out from other organizations because of their commitment to technology. They see technology as an investment and not an expense.
  • They met with us on a regular basis. When we asked for a meeting, they invited us in. They scheduled regular technology roadmap meetings. That led to a greater understanding by me of their needs, calendar, and business plans. It also led to a greater understanding by them of my philosophy and how we embrace a holistic approach to supporting their hardware, software, and services.
  • They did what we asked. This took two tracks. They bought hardware and software on a schedule designed to maximize their return on investment. And they signed the contracts we put in front of them.
  • They relied on us completely. Every year they hold a huge, international event. They engaged us in the planning and implementation of the technology side of this endeavor. Eventually, we had boxes of equipment that were set aside simply to support this annual event. They never worried that we wouldn't be there, or that we'd do something wrong. They simply checked a box and knew that my company would take care of this.
  • They invested in training. Some they bought from us, some from others. But overall, they trained their people to get better and better all the time.
  • They were friendly. They treated all of my employees with respect, even if they weren't sure about them. They believed in the long term relationship, and that investment played out in great relationships.
  • They pay their bills on time. Over 20+ years, there were a few miscommunications, but very few.

Overall, I would say they hired us with the intent of building a twenty-year relationship and then they committed to making that work. And we did the same.

In my books and presentations, I often talk about my favorite clients. Sometimes that due to personal reasons. Sometimes it's because of one business reason or another. But in all cases, it's because my favorite clients do lots of things that make the entire engagement pleasant, sustainable, and low stress. Of course they're also profitable. But you can make money serving anyone. You'll live longer when you serve great people who commit to their part of the engagement and make the job enjoyable in the long run.

My hat is off to Janet and the whole gang over the years at CLFP. I might be the only one celebrating this anniversary, but it's been a great twenty-three years.


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