Most businesses have a list of people who have bought something from them. As long as money exchanged hands, most companies would call these people customers.

I disagree. I would call them transactions. If you call them customers, you'll try to do business with them again. But a certain percentage of all transactions will never be repeat business, no matter how much you invest. And the effort you make trying to keep lousy customers will steal from your efforts to satisfy your best customers.

My challenge for you: Create a profile of the customer you wish all your customers were like. Look at a list of past transactions and ask the following four questions about the people who hired you:

Are they easy to work with? Real customers still get frustrated, but they'll work it out with you because they want to stay with you.

Do they have the money and are they willing to spend it? Look at what they buy and how often they buy it. Real customers understand the cost of your service and won't make you bid for their business.

Do they have an ongoing need for your service? Real customers actively discuss plans for future work and often seek your input.

Are they willing to come back to you again and again? Real customers can identify the difference they see in you that makes them willing to pay a little bit more. They'll go out of their way to buy from you.

The names remaining on the list are your real customers. Now, stop trying to service transactions; they have no potential.

A best-selling author and award-winning speaker, Thom Winninger is founder of the Winninger Institute for Market Strategy in Minneapolis (