Saturday, May 03, 2008

Now my second post for today is a completely different topic, and I'm curious as to what you think.

Suppose we had a client in the past that used our aircraft on a semi-regular basis. Suppose they decided to go elsewhere for their aviation needs. Suppose I contacted them later on to remind them we would be delighted to have them rejoin us, and asking them to consider us for future business.

Suppose I got a phone call from an angry manager of the other flying service, telling me I was unprofessional in contacting our old clients now that they were dealing primarily with the other flying service.

Am I being unprofessional? My take on it is that we had a prior business relationship with the client, and anyway it's just straight-up competition.

It is kind of a grey area to me - the aviation community is pretty small in Toronto, and we all have to work together even though we all sort of have love-hate relationships with each other. Our lives would be easier if we were the only operation in town, but it's also nice to have other operators to help us out of our plane goes mechanical, or if we need to borrow a pilot etc.

So I'm not sure what the rules are. Is it acceptable to approach past clients who currently use another operator? Is it acceptable to approach clients who are new to us, but who are already being serviced by another charter operator? What if we don't know they are being serviced by another operator and we happen to cold-call them? What if we do know they are being serviced by another operator?

Right now my rule of thumb is that we don't approach clients who are sub-chartered to us from another operator (maybe the other operator's plane is broken, or they are busy that day or whatever, so they have to farm the business out to us), but everything else is fair game.

What do you think? What are the proper ethics? I want to run an ethical operation, but I also want to expand our business.


Anonymous said...

When your business goes belly-up and you lose your job because you did not go after enough clients, would you think it still more ethical to not have done so? Your work is like most others businesses: based on competition. I think what you did is fair game. And, it sure looks like the guy who called you to complain is engaging in his own competitive actions by intimidating you with the phone call. Better to be thought of as a bit if a ba$tard than as an overly ethical guy who ends up unemployed.

fche said...

You have no ethical bonds to your *competitors*, except perhaps as a part of the emergency subletting arrangements (which could themselves be based on contract rather than mere friendliness). "Ethical" does not mean the same thing as "submissive".

fugalh said...

Ethical? I say absolutely. You have no obligation to them. Their customers are sentient and have agency. (Unless, perhaps, you are involved in kidnapping?)

Is it wise? Well, that's the harder question. Sometimes it's better to be nice for reasons other than ethics. Reasons of cooperation. Goes around comes around, that sort of thing. Hard questions.

Don't be afraid to serve self interest within the bounds of ethics, and on the other hand don't be afraid to be nice either.

Disclaimer: I am not a pilot, though I play one on my PC. Nor am I a successful entrepeneur, though I have enough business to support my grad school habit.

Mike said...

There's nothing un-ethical about calling potential customers. But it is possible to behave in an unethical way when you do call them. It's about how you do it. Potential customers who are not with you will either be with another operator or a greenfields opportunity. If everyone is doing their job then your customers will be getting calls too.

I agree with your ground rule about customers that are subbed to you being off-limits - except of course if they approach you.

What you have to watch for is that competition doesn't become stupid. Sometimes another operator will target you and your business - your customers. When that happens in my business we go a little feral and target that operator, their customers and just for good measure their employees. That tends to take their minds off the idea of targetting us - they find they need to divert their energy and effort to protecting their own business. We never start a game of individually targetting a business unless there is good reason - maybe very dissatisfied customers. Otherwise the cost can be greater than the gain as "Mafioso" style warfare results.

Go forth and compete, but always smile at your competition and be polite to them and never ever bag the competition to the buyers.



Aviatrix said...

Your take sounds fair, provided you aren't bad-mouthing the competition ("I wondered if you wanted to change air carriers, now that A-Jet had that negligent accident").

I wonder what the customer said to your competitor about the call. "SulakoJet called me to try to lure me back there, isn't that hilarious"?

Anonymous said...

You should definitely call them. If anything, it's a good opportunity ask how you can improve your service. I think it is good business sense to be aware of why they chose that company and not yours.

I agree with not going for the sub-contracted passengers though. I think that is tacky.

Anonymous said...

I tjink you handled it in an ethical manner. If you had flown them before, then they are fair game, if you haven't flown them before it's fair game (cold calling). The only way you could get sideways is if you start pitching them while you are running a subcharter, and you already said you wouldn't do that. Go forth and grow the business and get a shit load of profit'll need it to pay Lisa's speeding ticket ;)

Anonymous said...

If you were selling real estate, this wouldn't be unethical, it would be a REQUIREMENT TO STAY IN BUSINESS!!! I'm sure some of your clients started with small businesses and I'm sure almost all of them would understand the idea of good prospecting. It's the basis of ALL business.