Is There a Difference Between a Customer and a Client?

The Marketing Wisdom of Marc Petock

By, Marc Petock 

Let me go ahead and answer that, YES. 

Back in my early days, it was imparted to me that there is a difference between a customer and a client. I could not agree more and have always approached it this way. 

This subject recently bubbled up when I conducted a LinkedIn poll asking the following: 

Is there a difference between a customer and a client?

Yes 71%

No 23%

Never thought about it. 6%

Admittedly, I was surprised by the results (I did not expect the “no’s” to be in double digits and the “never thought about it” to be at 6%. 

While “customer and client” are both used to refer to someone who is buying goods and services, each of them has their own meaning and connotations. The terms are often used interchangeably, yet they have different meanings depending on the context.

The main difference lies in what type of experience(s) you want to create with a buyer and the nature of the relationship between the purchaser and the company they are purchasing from. When referring to the people who buy your products and services, it is important to use the right reference that accurately portrays them to you and you to them, reflects your company, your brand(s) and how you want to establish and manage a relationship. 

A customer is a relationship that is transactional in nature. Customers make one-time or occasional purchases without necessarily establishing a long-term commitment or ongoing relationship with the business. The focus is on the specific product or service being provided, and is price driven, versus value driven. 

A client on the other hand, implies recurrence and a more ongoing, long-term relationship. Clients often engage the services of a company or individual on a continual and recurring basis. The relationship is characterized by mutual trust and repeated exchange of services, advice, expertise, and knowledge. Clients receive personalized attention, and a higher level of engagement compared to customers. Furthermore, a client relationship drives higher sales, decisions based on value-not price, builds brand loyalty, provides stability, supports higher margins, and helps drive lifetime value.

So, what is lifetime value? Look at it as a measure of the total income a business can expect to bring in from a buyer for as long as that person or account remains a client. It is the total worth to a business of a buyer over the entire period of their relationship with the company. Rather than looking at the value of individual transactions, this value considers all potential transactions to be made during a relationship timespan. 

The specific meaning and use of the term “customer” or “client” is up to you. It is important to understand their distinctions and know that there is a difference. While each of these terms paints a different picture of the buyer/purchaser relationship, it all boils down to the same thing – how the buyer/purchaser feels about their interactions with you. 

For me, everyone is a client. 

So, does this apply to the building’s controls and smart buildings market? Absolutely. 


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