Would You Drop a Difficult Customer?

September 7, 2011Vincent Byrne

I am sure you have been in the situation. You have met a potential client, probably found it difficult to get a meeting with them, you have sent them a proposal and they have come back and amended it 5 times and then, just when you think agreement can be reached, they come back at you wanting a further reduction of the fee or product price. You have a bad feeling about it but you go ahead anyway!

Then, you get into the working phase with them and they cancel meetings, are unprepared when they attend and they don’t want to take any responsibility for the agreement between you. In fact, they expect you to do all of the giving and, on top of that, you get requests at odd times of the day and night to ‘jump into the batmobile’ and come to sort out their various emergencies!

Familiar? Read on!

You sort everything out in the professional and stoical manner that you do, after all, it is business and it’s hard enough to get new clients in this environment………….and the cash flow is important, or so you rationalise to yourself.

That is, until you put in your first invoice and it is met either with silence or an irate email or phone call expressing horror at the price you have charged or the fact that they thought that certain things that you charged for were ‘included’. Or the other scenario is that you can’t get paid and every time you phone for a cheque you are fobbed off and told that the boss hasn’t passed the invoice and, when you eventually get him, he starts the querying of your invoice process.

So you sort it out and continue working and you go through the same process over and over, month after month until, one day you find that someone else has been asked to come in and provide a similar service or product, without any explanation or, you are abruptly told that your services are no longer required.

Does it sound familiar? Well the above scenario is a combination of real situations and occurrences that my clients and indeed I myself have experienced over the years and I am sure that you can resonate with some or all of the above.

So, why do we keep doing it to ourselves? Why do we press on with a client when the ‘tell tale signs’ are staring us right between the eyes from Day 1?

In many cases, it is fear – we could do with the money, in others, naivety or self delusion – it will be different this time!

In any event, the reasons for sticking with the client are proved wrong at almost every turn and, in addition, create other problems for ourselves too, such as;

    • We are hampered from doing our best work.
    • We are frustrated by the clients lack of engagement.
    • We don’t make the progress that we make with a fully engaged client.
    • They continually challenge and find fault with what we do.
    • We waste time on cancelled and unproductive meetings.
    • They argue over our invoices.
    • Our cash flow is messed up due to non or delayed payments.
    • And, worst of all, they ‘bad mouth’ us for not having done a good job or in some cases, take an action, to claim back the money that they already paid us!!

All or part of this comes from a starting point where you ignored the hunch or the gut feel and went ahead to work with the client anyway.

Michael Port, in his book ‘Book Yourself Solid’ suggests that we should apply a ‘red rope policy’ to clients and potential clients. By that he means ‘imagine yourself as the doormen, dressed in a tuxedo at the entrance to a club at which there is a red rope joining two shiny poles, and your instruction is to only allow in the guests who present the personal invitation card’.

In your case, the personal invitation card, would be the description of what ‘your’ ideal client or customer would ‘look’ like.

So, what does your ideal client look like?

Take a look at your current customers and select the ones that you ‘love’ working with – then list the reasons why you love working with them? What is it about them and your relationship that, in your eyes, qualifies them as the perfect client for you.

The features might relate to the normal characteristics such as industry type, business size, financial strength and employee numbers however the more important aspects, the ones that influence the business relationship, will involve, for example;

    • A good business reputation
    • The attitude & demeanour of the owner
    • Do they appreciate the need for your expertise?
    • Do they admit that they need help?
    • Is price more important than value?
    • Do they appreciate quality?
    • Do they behave professionally?

So, armed with this information, you can be more selective about who you will let through your ‘red rope’ from now on! Or will you?

I already hear you say ‘but that’s all very well being selective when everyone has lots of work, but it’s not so easy in the current climate!’

My response is;

‘Is it sensible to knowingly take on work for or to supply goods to someone who is going to cause all of this grief and perhaps not pay you at the end of it, and then complains about you at every opportunity?’ or

‘Would it be better to concentrate on finding clients and customers who meet your criteria, allow you do your best work and rave about you to their own friends and business associates……..and pay you without quibble, on time?’

The choice is yours!

Yes, I know it sounds a bit radical and scary so if you would like to discuss it further, please feel free to drop me an email.

If, on the other hand, you are warming to this approach, are you prepared for stage two, whereby you apply your list of ‘ideal client” qualification criteria, to your current customer list and dividing them into ‘Good and Bad’ and answer my question at the beginning of this piece?

Will you drop the difficult Clients? Be Brave!

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