When to Fire a Client

by | Aug 8, 2016 | Blog, Marketing


For all the salespeople in the room, skip today’s blog post because I am going to talk about when and how to fire a client. I know you work hard to get people to sign on the dotted line so I am sure you don’t want to read about how some of those sales are just not worth the effort. So for today, go read something on Matt Nettleton’s sales blog and then come back tomorrow….

This is hard. On the one hand you want every sale, but you know there are some projects (and clients) you should walk or run from. Here are ways to know it is time to fire a client.

They want you to do things you aren’t good at

When I first started Roundpeg, I was so excited to have clients, I accepted all sorts of projects, even if the client wanted something I really didn’t do. I took the project and found a way to deliver what they needed. Sometimes that meant finding outside resources. Outsourcing isn’t necessarily a bad strategy if you pick the right partners. Just be prepared with a back up plan if the resource goes away.

In the beginning we outsourced certain types of web design work which we couldn’t support. Unfortunately, we were left holding the bag when the person who did the design left town. Finding someone else to do the follow up work was more expensive so it became a losing battle. After that we learned when a client wanted something outside our scope it is better to help them find the right resources and say goodbye.

They want an order taker

There is a difference between a trusted adviser and an order taker. If you are selling a commodity product, there is nothing wrong with being an order taker. Your job is to figure out how many blue widgets someone wants and make sure they are sent on time. Of course, that type of salesperson can eventually be replaced by an online form.

Longevity in sales and in business is easier to achieve when you can bundle your expertise with the product. Anyone can take an order for a blue widget, but only someone who really understands what the customer needs can help them find other uses for the blue widget. When you sell your expertise you position yourself as a trusted adviser, you have a competitive edge and the ability to sell your services at a premium.

Once you get used to selling and providing a service as a trusted adviser, having a client who won’t listen is a problem. Sooner or later they will question why they are paying a premium or worse try to push you back into order taker mode. This causes tension between you and the client. This tension is very common as you shift your business model to the more service based, trusted adviser. Long time clients who were used to your old role may be resistant to the change and the price increases. While It is hard to say goodbye, holding on to them will hold you back. Time to say thanks but we are no longer a fit.


They aren’t nice people

In some cases problems extend beyond a mismatch of demands. There are people in the world who are rude, abusive, bossy or bullying. Think of the patron in a restaurant who berates a server if their food isn’t prepared correctly, instead of simply sending it back. Things go wrong and clients have a right to be upset when they do. The question is how do they react as you try to work through issues. If someone is routinely rude or combative it can have a demoralizing effect on your team. In those cases, it is ok to come to an amicable solution and part ways.

One of our earliest retainer clients had only two tones of voice, shouting and bellowing. When the phone rang everyone tense, afraid it was Mike. They would look around hoping someone else would answer the phone. Not only was his style of interaction effecting how we took care of him but it was also effecting service levels to other clients as the phone rang two and three times before being answered. Saying goodbye to the single biggest client we had at the time was hard, but it would have been harder to say goodbye to several team members who had been reduced to tears after conversations with him.

After several mistakes, sometimes costly I have learned how to avoid the wrong clients. I do this by paying attention to how they treat us in the proposal process. It is kind of like dating, if someone is rude, cancels appointments, keeps you waiting and won’t return phone calls in a timely manner before they sign on to be clients, they won’t be easy to work with later. It is better not to start a relationship than to try to back out once you figure out you aren’t a good fit.


Avoid the wrong clients

Finding the right clients

You can spend a lot of time avoiding the wrong people or looking for the right ones. Starting with a clear definition of your target customer will help you and your team find people who value what you do and want to work with you.

#504 - Judgment vs. Curiosity

It is human nature to be judgmental, to look at things which are different and judge them good or bad.

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