When to Say No to a Potential Client
When consulting, it can be tough to identify the difference between a great opportunity and a nightmare client. On the one hand, you want to bring on new clients that will benefit from your work, refer other customers and provide a solid example of your skills. On the other hand, you don’t want to spend precious time working with a client who will disregard your work and waste time. While it may be clear that some clients aren’t a good fit, but others can be tougher to identify. Some clients may start out great and then take a turn for the worst. Each client you work with is taking on risk to your reputation. So, what should you be looking for in the initial client meeting? Here are four red-flags to look for during the initial consultation with a potential client.
Lack of Consistency
When talking with a potential client, are they consistent with what their issues are? Or do they jump from one concern to another in quick succession? This lack of focus has the potential to spiral out of control. When a client can’t prioritize their concerns, it’s easy to waste time chasing your tail. It could be a sign that they won’t act on advice in one area because they will shift their focus to another. The constant shift of priorities will be a source of distraction at best and cause scope creep at its worst. If it’s not possible to narrow down and prioritize your client’s concerns in a way you both can agree on, it may be better to pass.
It can be difficult for any business owner to admit a shortcoming. However, they did come to you for a reason. Getting details about their situation and the decisions that led them there aren’t always comfortable, but if their defensiveness is in the way of progress then it’s a red flag. The challenge will lie in helping them learn from mistakes if they can’t admit to any. You’ll want to ask as many questions as possible and analyze their answers. Are they providing a logical explanation of the process or are they offering excuses and becoming defensive? Understanding what to improve is critical to being able to implement a plan for success. If the potential client can’t get out of their own way, you may want to steer clear of working with them.
The relationship with a client should be built on trust. When meeting with a potential client for the first time, it’s critical that they lay out all the necessary information. If they are giving half-truths, not letting you speak with relevant employees, or lying to you, it will be impossible for you to create a proposal for them. If you do talk to employees, are they telling the same story, or are they providing valuable insight that you didn’t receive from their management? If the accounts differ, try to figure out why without throwing the employee under the bus. Ask more questions, and see where the truth lies. If it feels they are purposely withholding information from you, you won’t be able to do your job. Effective solutions can’t be created based on false information. If you have a suspicion that they aren’t honest with you, it may be time to walk away.
If your potential client admits that you aren’t their first consultant, it’s not necessarily the end of the road. It gives you a good opportunity to ask about their previous experiences and what came of them. It’s possible that the earlier consultants weren’t a good fit or were helping with other specialties. The red flag occurs when you see excessive complaints or blame. If it seems that they haven’t implemented previous suggestions, or are overly negative regarding their last consultants, then it’s likely they will repeat that behavior. You should think twice if you want to work with a client that will talk about you in the same manner.
Lack of Communication
Communication is a critical factor in any business relationship, but it’s especially important when working with a client. Email, text and phone calls are all typical methods of communication in the client-consultant relationship. If your client disappears for periods of time or doesn’t respond to contact attempts, it’s going to make it more challenging to work with them. Using a collaborative platform can help, especially ones that feature chat, file sharing, document collaboration and video conferencing. By streamlining all communication into a single platform it mitigates searching through various communication streams for information. Taking steps to simplify communication doesn’t guarantee that your client will be responsive. If you find that they have exceptionally long periods of silence it may be better to pass rather than have to continually chase them down for a response.
Regardless of the reason if you decide not to work with a potential client, you’ll want to be polite and sincere when letting them know. It’s a conversation best held in person or on the phone rather than email to avoid a misconstrued message that lacks context. You don’t want the other party to feel they were brushed off, so if possible make a recommendation if you know of someone else that may be better suited to help them. It can be something simple as “we aren’t the firm to help you…” and you are welcome to leave the possibility that you could work together in the future if you are comfortable with that.