Yes, unfortunately. In fact, there are two circumstances under which you should ‘fire’ a client… and two when you should walk away from the opportunity in the first place.
Recently, I was chatting with a senior-level contact at a mid-sized research firm located in the Northeast. We were just getting caught up with each other and talking about business in general. During the conversation, he said that his business was off a bit this year and that one of the reasons for it was that he had to walk away from one of his largest clients (i.e. he ‘fired’ them). He said the stress on his staff of working with them just wasn’t worth it any more.
Which got me to thinking about those times in our industry when – as much as you hate to – you have to walk away from the revenue because it’s the right thing to do for your firm…
Firing a client
The reason for firing a client generally falls into one of two categories…
1) They are not a profitable client… or, at least, not as profitable as your other clients.
This most often happens when, over time, the client beats you down on price (and you cave in)… or maybe, because you’re so nice, you’ve thrown in a freebie here and there and now it’s caught up with you… or maybe, out of loyalty to the client, you are working with them in an old, outdated, more expensive way (call it a “legacy” client) and you just can’t afford to keep doing it that way.
2) The reason I come across most often, however – and like the firm I mentioned above – is that the stress of working with a particular client just isn’t worth it.
What causes this stress? Sometimes the client is just too needy – taking up much more of your time than they should – asking lots of questions, emailing you at all times of the day and night and (god forbid) you gave them your cell phone number! Some clients are overly demanding… everything they want from you is a ‘rush’ (whether they really need it that quickly or not) and it’s wearing out your PMs. But the worst are the abusive clients – unfriendly, unprofessional, rude… that because they’re the mighty client and you’re just a lowly vendor, they look down on you and feel like they can push you around. Ugh!
Not accepting new business
Occasionally, you’ll be approached by a new sales prospect who’s seems genuinely excited about the chance to work with you… but you have to say “no thanks” right up front. Here’s usually what’s driving that…
1) While you really hate to turn down any revenue, some businesses just aren’t a ‘fit’ for your firm – even if you could do the work.
It could be that they’re in a vertical industry that you don’t work in… it could be that they’re too small (or even too large)… maybe what they want from you is just a little outside your core competency… or maybe they’re looking for a relationship structure that doesn’t fit your business model (e.g. you require a 25% downpayment, but they are unwilling to pay it).
2) Perhaps – and this is the hardest one to clearly define – your ‘gut’ says something is not quite right with the situation. Twice in the past few years this has happened to me:
- The first time, I just got a bad feeling about the firm’s owner (though he didn’t do or say anything to suggest that) – but my gut feel would not go away. And he really wanted to work with us. My response? I submitted a proposal with prices so high that I never heard from him again. It kept my conscience clear, too!
- In the second situation, there were no ‘bad’ feelings… I had a ‘funny feeling’ that this was an engagement that just would not go well. Guess what? I accepted it anyway and my original hunches were dead on… it was an engagement that was just a pain-in-the-a** from the get-go. My takeaway… when you gut tells you what to do… listen to it!
Our goal – as business owners, senior executives and marketing & sales staffers – is to help our companies grow. But every once in a while, when you’re not set up for success, you have to bite the bullet and walk away from that ‘bad’ revenue… the price you’ll pay just isn’t worth the reward.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen to you too often!