Wrong Customers and the Art of Saying No

19 February, 2011

You get a phone call: someone wants your help with a project. You´re thrilled: a new potential client! Naturally, you immediately express your interest!


You put together your offer and await the reply eagerly. The client accepts, and a week later you start working. It seems everything is going your way!


But a few days later, things start feeling messy. Your mission is unclear and the client won’t give you any specifications on what you’re supposed to deliver. One moment he wants this, the next that.


You obviously want to do everything you can to make the client happy. So you accept the situation and keep on working – even though your hourly pay is getting closer to that of a trainee.


Do you recognize the situation? Congratulations – you’ve just come across a customer that is probably wrong for you! And your chances of succeeding with the project are, most likely, very slim.


Wrong customers – is there really such a thing? You have to generate money – so isn’t every customer right for you and your business?!


Unfortunately not. There are actually customers that are totally wrong for us. So we need to learn to recognize them – and, if needed, have the courage to decline their business.


So, what or how is a wrong customer? Here are a few examples:


A customer can be wrong for us when he doesn´t really know what he wants. The client is indecisive: one day he wants X, a couple of days later Y. If you don´t know what the client´s expectations are, you have small, if not zero chances to succeed – no matter how hard you work.


A free-rider that is slow to pay can also be the wrong client. Pay attention to small warning signals! Maybe the client´s reputation reveals potentially weak finances. Maybe he seems messy in general. Maybe you´ve come across other ”classics” that you can learn to recognize quickly?


A client can be wrong for our business when he doesn´t fit our target group. If you offer super quality to the top segment of the market, but also take on low-price customers, you´re risking your brand by being unclear. It’ll also make it difficult to maintain your higher price level when you perform quality work for some at a huge discount.


When you can´t help the customer in the best way or when too much work makes the project unprofitable, then the client is definitely wrong for our business.


But before you decline a potential customer, try to see if you can remedy the situation:


If the client is vague, offer a first free delivery by helping the client reach clarity. Ask questions until you´re sure that you know exactly what the client wants from you. Make sure you have a shared view on what you´re supposed to achieve. You´ll strengthen your image as a true professional – and the client will feel safe, knowing that there is a clear goal.


“Preview” the customer. If you doubt that a client is serious and suspect that he’s just asking around to gather information – throw the ball back in his corner! Ask for specifications and other relevant information concerning the project. Does the client seem like a potential free-rider? Ask for an advance payment before you start your work. And so on.


Does the client still seems wrong for your business? Then the smartest thing to do, is to say no. You need to be able to do a good job, get paid and feel that your company is going in the direction you want it to. If money today will hurt your company tomorrow, the project isn´t worth it!


Having a hard time targeting and getting new clients? I help you fine tune your offer and create a sales strategy that really works! Contact me for more information on how I can help your business forward!