I really like the concept of picking customers who are right for the way we do business, and believe that customers should have the same perspective when choosing a custom software vendor.
I would argue that *all* businesses over about $5 million in revenue need custom software to help them run more efficiently. But that doesn’t mean that all of them should be customers of ours. The simple truth is that we are only a match for a certain subset of those businesses.
I ran across a company recently that had an Access ’97 database that they wanted to have upgraded to Access 2013. It was probably the worst example of programming that I’ve ever seen, and it defines why Access gets a bad rap in the corporate IT world. The poor sap that was awarded the upgrade project bid $25,000 on what is probably a $200,000 project. The customer in this case, is simply wrong. Rewriting the application from scratch would probably cost about $50,000, but they insisted on upgrading it instead. This project is analogous to a car owner that has a mechanic replace his car’s engine, but insists on using the old pistons, valves and camshaft. Can it be done? Sure. Should it be done? Not on your life.
One thing I do know is that it won’t be done by us.
As professionals, I consider it our responsibility to guide our customers into a solution that is right for their business. Our customers are experts in their line of work. We’re experts in ours. Sometimes a customer will ask for something that doesn’t quite fit with what they’re really looking for. I’ve found myself saying on more than one occasion, “we can certainly do that for you, but I’d ask that you think about that for a bit because I’m concerned about XYZ…”
Fortunately for us, all of our current customers are absolute joys to work with. They have amazing businesses, and it is truly an honor to participate in helping them run their businesses more efficiently. Have we had to part ways with a few? Yes, but in the last few years, I’ve gotten much better about picking customers that are a good fit to begin with. There’s usually a pretty glaringly bright line that separates idiosyncratic requirements that we can work around from projects that just don’t make sense. I’m very glad to have the experience necessary to spot that bright line. It makes life so much easier.