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Clients vs Customers: A New Take On An Old Dilemma

This vital guide reveals differences between customers vs clients. It busts common myths and shares strategies to strengthen business relationships and revenue.
Clients vs Customers

As a key account manager, distinguishing clients from customers is crucial – as crucial as a barista understanding the different coffee orders.

  • Clients expect a tailored experience from trusted partners dedicated to their long-term goals, much like a coffee connoisseur savoring each expertly-crafted sip.
  • Customers prioritize speed and convenience, seeking to quickly satisfy a short-term need, similar to the busy professionals grabbing their morning latte on the way to work.

Too often we conflate the two groups, failing to adapt our service and solutions to their unique needs. But making this key distinction will enable you to deliver tremendous value, just as a skilled barista delights both coffee aficionados and rushing commuters.

This guide will uncover the critical differences between clients and customers, arming you with strategies to nurture meaningful relationships and revenue growth with both groups.

Let’s dive in to transform your approach to client and customer management.

What is a Customer?

Customers purchase products or services from your business, typically driven by immediate needs. Their interaction is more about the transaction, focusing on what they need now.

Characteristics of a Customer

  • Transactional Nature: Customers usually opt for one-off buys based on immediate requirements.
  • Value and Convenience: They often prioritize factors like cost-effectiveness and ease of purchase.
  • Varied Loyalty: Customer loyalty can range from one-time interactions to repeat purchases, influenced by satisfaction and value.
  • Wide Range of Needs: Catering to customers means addressing diverse preferences and requirements across a distinct audience.

Customer Examples

Customers usually engage in transactional relationships with businesses. Here are some common examples:

  1. Office Supplies Purchasers: Businesses that order office supplies from a distributor. They focus on the transaction, often seeking the best price and convenience.
  2. Software License Buyers: Companies purchase one-time software licenses or software as a service (SaaS) for short-term use without needing ongoing customization or consultancy.
  3. Commercial Printing Services: A business that requires a one-off printing job for promotional materials, such as brochures or banners, from a printing company.
  4. Corporate Training Workshops: Organizations that engage a training provider for a workshop or short-term training program without an ongoing development plan.
  5. Equipment Rental for Events: Companies rent audio-visual equipment or other items for corporate events, where the interaction is limited to the rental transaction.
  6. Web Hosting Services: A business purchasing web hosting services non-contractually, often choosing based on price, server capacity, and uptime guarantees.

What is a Client?

Clients represent a deeper, more engaged relationship. They’re not just looking for a product or service; they need tailored solutions and guidance that align with their unique needs.

Characteristics of a Client

  • Long-term Commitment: Clients engage with us over a lengthy period, valuing stability and a lasting partnership.
  • Tailored Solutions: They require solutions crafted specifically for their challenges and goals.
  • Trust and Expertise: A client’s relationship with us is built on trust and our ability to deliver informed, expert advice.
  • Stronger Loyalty: Generally, clients show higher loyalty rooted in the personalized service and perceived value of the relationship.

Client Examples

Clients typically engage in a more in-depth, advisory relationship with a business. Here are some examples:

  1. Corporate Legal Services: A corporation requiring ongoing legal counsel and representation in various legal matters.
  2. Marketing Agencies: Businesses engaging with marketing agencies for long-term branding, digital marketing strategies, and campaign management.
  3. IT Consulting Firms: Companies relying on IT consultants for continuous technology solutions, system upgrades, and cybersecurity.
  4. Accounting Firms: Individuals or businesses that use accounting services for regular financial management, tax planning, and auditing.
  5. Healthcare Providers: Patients who have an ongoing relationship with their healthcare providers for chronic care management or long-term treatment plans.
  6. Architectural Firms: Real estate developers who regularly work with architects for designing multiple properties or ongoing construction projects.

Client vs Customer: A Key Account Manager’s Perspective

As seasoned key account managers, recognizing whether we’re dealing with a client or a customer is crucial. It informs how we communicate, collaborate, and prioritize, ensuring we effectively meet each group’s unique needs.

Approach for Clients

  • In-depth Understanding: We delve deep into our clients’ businesses, understanding their challenges and aspirations. This enables us to offer more than just products or services – we become advisors and strategic partners.
  • Customized Solutions: Since clients often have intricate needs, we focus on adding value through our expertise and personalized attention, crafting solutions that align with their business objectives.
  • Nurturing Relationships: Building meaningful relationships with clients is vital. These connections are founded on mutual trust and understanding, positioning us as integral to their success stories.

Approach for Customers

  • Efficient Service: Our goal is to provide practical, straightforward solutions for customers. While these interactions might be more transactional, they’re crucial to demonstrate responsiveness and reliability.
  • Importance of Volume: Customers are pivotal for our business’s reach and steady revenue. Satisfying their needs is essential for maintaining our market presence and a positive brand reputation.

Balancing Both

Mastering the art of balancing client and customer management is a vital skill for us.

With clients, it’s about fostering relationships that fuel growth and long-term success.

For customers, it’s ensuring satisfaction and operational efficiency.

This balanced approach is the secret to ensuring that clients and customers receive the right services, driving profitability and productivity for our business.

5 Common Myths About the Difference Between Clients vs Customers

Let’s debunk a few myths around around the clients vs customers debate.

  1. Clients Spend More Than Customers: Not always true. While clients might have long-term, high-value contracts, many customers can collectively match or exceed this revenue.
  2. Personalization is Just for Clients: Modern customers also appreciate personalized touches. It’s about finding the right balance in our interactions.
  3. Clients are More Loyal: Loyalty isn’t just about the depth of engagement. Satisfied customers can show similar loyalty, influenced by various factors.
  4. Managing Customers is Easier: Attracting and retaining a broad customer base can be as challenging as managing deep client relationships.
  5. Client Feedback is More Valuable: Client and customer feedback is crucial. Customer feedback, in particular, can offer a broader market perspective.

A Personal Revelation in Account Management

My journey as a key account manager transformed when I truly grasped the client versus customer dynamic. It was like a lightbulb moment that changed everything. I realized I had been trying to fit round customer pegs into square client holes – frankly, it wasn’t working.

This understanding shifted my mindset. I stopped seeing my interactions through a one-size-fits-all lens. Instead, I began tailoring my approach, recognizing clients’ and customers’ distinct needs and expectations.

For clients, I deepened my focus on understanding their long-term goals and challenges, nurturing relationships built on trust and specialized solutions.

I streamlined my approach with customers, concentrating on efficient service delivery and immediate value.

This shift didn’t just change how I worked – it revolutionized it. I became more productive, as I was no longer wasting time and energy on mismatched strategies. My effectiveness soared because I was meeting people exactly where they were, with what they needed.

Most importantly, I became more relevant to both my clients and customers. Depending on their situation, they started seeing me not just as a service provider but as a strategic partner or a reliable source for quick solutions.

So, to my fellow key account managers, understanding this dynamic is a game-changer. It’s the key to unlocking your full potential in this role. Trust me, when you apply this insight, you’ll see just how transformative it can be.

Let’s stop trying to force fit our approaches and start being the dynamic, adaptable professionals our clients and customers need us to be.

Reflect on Your Client-Customer Dynamics

By fully comprehending the client-customer dynamic, we position ourselves for success. But knowledge isn’t enough. You have to apply it.

Here are some questions designed to help you connect the dots between the concepts we’ve explored and your real-world experiences as a key account manager.

Reflection Questions

  • Reflect on Your Portfolio: Think about your current accounts. Can you identify which are ‘clients’ and which are ‘customers’? How might this distinction change the way you manage these relationships?
  • Personal Strategy Evaluation: Reflect on your past interactions with clients and customers. Are there instances where a more (or less) tailored approach could have led to better outcomes? How might applying this distinction in future interactions enhance your effectiveness as a key account manager?
  • Assessing Communication and Service Delivery: How do your communication strategies and service delivery differ between clients and customers? Are there areas where you could further customize your approach to better meet their unique expectations and enhance their overall experience with your business?

Each client and customer interaction is a chance to apply these insights, learn, and grow. Remember these reflections as you navigate your accounts, and watch how they can transform your practice and outcomes.

Need More Help on Customer vs Clients?

By fully comprehending the client-customer dynamic, we position ourselves for success. But knowledge isn’t enough. You have to apply it.


  • The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information into Customer Intimacy.  Outlines research and strategies for building lasting brand loyalty among customers in a practical, step-by-step approach. Author Bryan Pearson draws from his extensive experience at Alliance Data and provides data-backed advice to shift from short-term transactions to profitable, growth-driven relationships.
  • The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results. Reveals the emerging breed of B2B customers that have high expectations and favor suppliers who can provide unexpected value. Author Brent Adamson provides a research-based framework to help sales and marketing professionals differentiate themselves and win in this new landscape. Based on exhaustive data, the book unpacks five challenger profiles and equips organizations to tailor their sales approach.


  • Cracking the Customer Code. Dedicated to helping you learn the ins and outs of creating great customer experiences. It covers topics from increasing loyalty, common CX mistakes, customer health scores and lots more. While the show finished production in 2022, there is a vast 8-year back catalogue of excellent episodes to explore.



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