During the millions of conversations I’ve had regarding marketing, very quickly the language discrepancy issue between “customer” vs “client” pops up.

Most definitions are generic – suggesting clients are customers, or clients are longer-term. I’m not sure I’d consider myself a client of Tesco, but I’ve been shopping there for quite some time!

I consider the two to be very different and easy to identify…


Customer relationships tend to be transactional. Customers are likely to be those that make one-off purchases, without much need for further advice or assistance – happy to self-serve and only dealing with you if necessary in order to complete their transaction.

Do as much as you can to get out of their way! Provide everything they need to self-serve including all the information to confirm their decision to buy. Make the transaction as smooth, fast and friendly as possible and they’ll be delighted.


Client relationships tend to be consultative. Clients are likely to need you to make recommendations or provide services based on a thorough understanding of their requirements – valuing your experience and expertise in helping them achieve their own objectives.

Be prepared to give prospective clients as much time as you can afford. Provide enough information to demonstrate your credibility, but be careful not to give away too much expertise for free, as that’s likely to be your most valuable asset.

Many moons ago I worked with one of the world’s top real estate agents who very clearly understood that he worked with both and his marketing approach was different for each… his clients were the people who were selling properties and his customers were the people who were buying them. He always hoped to turn customers into clients, and that simple way of grouping his audiences helped him tailor an approach that worked for each. Simple, but very effective.