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What’s the Difference Between a Bad Client and a Sharp Stick?

To know the difference between a good and bad client, it’s important to know who your clients are.

But it’s even more important to know who your clients aren’t.

For example, BMWs and Volvos are both sophisticated cars that can easily get you from Point A to Point B regardless of who you are – no real distinction there. But the inherent differences between a Volvo and a BMW are meaningless if you’re trying to sell either one to someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license.

I assume it’s just as hard to sell reins and a saddle to someone who doesn’t own a horse.

That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between a good and bad client.

Why can’t you go after good and bad clients?

As a small business owner or solo entrepreneur, you have limited resources to service your clients; specifically, time, money, and effort. If you’re the owner of a large business, you can only employ so many people to field your calls. No matter who you are, determining who might become a good client – and who won’t – is a critical skill.

One of the CEOs I mentor tells me that, “if someone finds me on the Internet, there’s less than a one in 20 chance they’ll become a client. If someone is referred to me by a current client, there is a four in five chance that I’ll close the deal.”

She continues: “it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even want to engage with contacts who come to me from an on-line form because chances are they’ll turn out to be bad clients.”

There’s another way to distinguish tire kickers from potential clients – bad clients and good clients. If you pay attention to what potentially bad clients are saying, they usually alert us to their status and tell us what to expect from them.

Here are a few of the warning signs that bad clients give us:

  • “I just have a quick five-minute question…”

Translation: “I want you to bring 30 years of your time, expertise, and knowledge to solving this problem for me over the phone, but I’m never going to actually write a check. I’m a bad client.”

Never in the history of business, from sheep herding in Biblical times to catapult building in the Middle Ages and on through giga-bit communication today, has there ever been a five-minute phone call. There is no such thing as a five-minute conversation. If a potential client says they have a “five-minute question” that only requires a “five-minute phone call,” they are never going to be a client. Your five minutes would be better spent sharpening a stick to jam into your eye instead of wasting time with them.

  • “Company A said my new marketing campaign should be A; Company B said my new marketing campaign should be B; and Company C said my new marketing campaign should be C. What do you think I should do?”

I think you should go back to A, B, and C and write them all checks.

Because if you offer to help this person you can count on getting your check when the weather report from Hell hits single digits. Once again, jamming that sharp stick into your eye would be more productive that working with this bad client.

  • “I already spoke to your competitors A, B, and C. They were not competent and couldn’t help me. As a matter of fact, I wrote a nasty review about company A, I won’t ever speak to consultant B again, and I’m litigating with C. But your reputation is excellent.
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    I am certain you will do a better job than any of them.”

This is the most dangerous bad client of all. Run, do not walk to the nearest sharp stick depot, and purchase two sharp sticks, one for each eye. Because as attractive as it might seem to finally be the one who can actually help, and as good as it feels to have their trust, guess who will be “Consultant D”? As in, “D was a complete idiot and no help at all” when they call consultant E a few weeks from now? Besides, you know very well that A, B, and C are colleagues and competent professionals. You do not want to be on the bad side of this bad client when they continue trashing everyone in your field.

By avoiding endless, pointless, time-consuming conversations with bad clients who are never going to be your clients, you can focus your attention on folks whom you can help—the same folks who can help you by paying you for your excellent work and rewarding you for the expertise you have earned over the years.

Your business is not a public school tasked with educating everyone. You are not a social worker. You are not a public service announcement. You started your business or your career to do great work, contribute to your community, and feed your family.

If your business builds widgets, there is little sense wasting your time talking to people who want to buy grommets. Determining the difference between a good and bad client is a big step on your road to success.

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