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Interesting post: "Hire" the right clients

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#1 sanity


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Posted 11 February 2005 - 04:22 PM

Another gem from the guys at 37 Signals: "Hire" the right clients

When I speak at design conferences Im almost always asked this question: How do you deal with bad clients? How do you make them get it? My answer is always We dont work with bad clients.

And I dont use that to squirm out of an answer. I mean it. Who you work with is your choice and has a huge impact on your happiness, productivity, quality, and the future of your business.

I'm a big believer in this. Michael Krasney, founder of CDW (Computer Discount Warehouse), said it best: "people do business with people they like". (ref)

Definitely works for me. What's your take on it?

#2 thirstymoose_2000


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Posted 11 February 2005 - 09:00 PM

Very similar to a reality I've faced in business but from the other direction --- sometimes you have to fire clients.

We've had clients who were incredibly demanding and who's margins really made them more of a liability than anything. So we'd start charging them more money and would just let them walk away. No use doing business with someone if you aren't making money or they kill the morale of your staff.

#3 DVDsPlusMore


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Posted 11 February 2005 - 09:11 PM

Well ... in a perfect world scenario, you're of course right! Who in their right mind would choose to work with unreasonable, ill-informed, unprofitable, or unappreciative clients?

Much like choosing a spouse, nobody (I hope) chooses to put themselves into an impossible situation. So the speaker quoted, IMO, is being unrealistic. Would a marriage counselor tell you "Just don't marry a bad person?" The reality as I see it is that client relationships (like marriages) start strong and THEN stay strong ... or disintegrate.

So the better question is not the wisdom of dropping these clients (or pricing them for maximum profitability), but the knowledge of how we get into these ugly situations.

1. Sometimes we know a prospect will be difficult ... but are dealing with the pressure to make numbers. We all can appreciate that at times financial realities become paramount. It's doubly problematic when a sales group wants to make numbers and a client service group is left to deal with the aftermath. Cross your fingers and hope for the best, no?

2. Sometimes we suspect a prospect might be difficult ... but are hopeful that we can field a team that defuses their issues. Who has the courage or the brains to stop a pursuit halfway beause "things don't feel right?". Is the notion of hoping to skate past problems wishful thinking? Perhaps.

3. Sometimes a prospect looks and feels great ... and then goes bananas after a few months together. This happens, too.

Thanks for the thought-provoking topic.


- James

#4 Tim


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Posted 11 February 2005 - 09:22 PM

Totally agreed. Good article with great comments.

One comment on the article said "Let me ask you this, Jason... have you ever had an experience where everything adds up in the beginning, but then somewhere along the line, suddenly and drastically everything changes? Which is I guess to say, have you ever followed your own advice and been wrong?"

This is something to look out for too. It can happen when the person you are working with leaves the company, and someone else is then assigned the job of working with you. Someone who has totally different ideas about what needs doing and hasn't even seen the quote that was agreed on and paid...

I've been in that situation before, and it wasn't fun. But, together we managed to get out of it by talking honestly about what had happened and what needs to happen. Through it, money was spent that shouldn't have been, but it meant the end result was more well thought out and better for the company.

Whenever I get an RFP that is over 10 pages (sometimes over 5) I send this right away. A really long, specific RFP if often a red flag -- it signals that there's already been too many decisions made. Too many sign-offs. Too many political battles invested to be open to change. I could be wrong, but that's what experience has taught me.

That's another comment I agree with. There's many signs to look out for in an RFP, including words like "must". And conditions like "post 10 copies of the proposal to this address, don't e-mail it".

#5 Tim


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Posted 11 February 2005 - 09:27 PM

Btw, welcome to Cre8, James! :wave:

Another article by 37 Signals is Open and honest communication. Don't try to hide things from your clients, otherwise it'll just dampen the relationship..

#6 Black_Knight


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Posted 11 February 2005 - 10:12 PM

We kind of touched on this issue before a couple of times, including in the classic "Marketing 101: Introduction to the Essentials of Marketing" thread, and again, more specifically, in the "Are Clients Expendable" discussion.

"The customer is always right, but not always the right customer"
Knowing who is the right customer is the very core of marketing - i.e. knowing your market. Many people get it the wrong way around, and think any customer they can get is the right customer, but that's not the case. You can't get the customer's you are not targeting, so if you have not correctly profiled the right customers for what you offer, you'll be trying to sell to a customer for whom you are not right.

There's no such thing as a bad customer. But there is most definitely such a thing as a bad match between customer and provider. Make sure that you are the right provider for the customer, and things will go smoothly.

#7 OldWelshGuy


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Posted 16 February 2005 - 10:42 AM

I had a phone call the other day from a potential client who after much brain picking and information being given out said to me. 'OK then now is your chance to sell yourself to me, why should I chose you over someone else?' . My reply was that they should go speak to some other people, and then make a decision based on their experiences. A bit arrogant maybe, but the moment they posed that, after having 45 miuntes of my time for free discussing their website, It just confirmed to me that I would not take them on as a client.

They had brought with them into our conversation the disatisfaction with their existing SEO's (who to be honest did not have a clue on the face of it). This alone was enough to tell me that I could probably not work with them. If you work with people that you do not like, then you damage your own self esteem. It is better to eat bread bought with money you enjoyed earning, than eat cake bought with money you did not. At least that is the way I feel.

As Ammon said above, there was nothing wrong with this customer, and no doubt they will find someone who will slap them about and bully them into submission with all the above, but that person is not me, plain and simple mismatch.

#8 bwelford


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Posted 16 February 2005 - 11:43 AM

Good to see you here, OWG.

I hesitate to bring a different perspective on what I'm sure was the right decision for you, particularly given the wisdom you show daily in 'that other place'. :P As you said, the chemistry has got to be right.

However I find words sometimes get in the way. We sometimes may not realize what someone else means to say. You were in the telephone conversation so you have the best sense of what really was going on.

However just on the basis of reading about it here, I could interpret their question in either of two ways:

OK then now is your chance to sell yourself to me, why should I chose you over someone else?

There's the way you heard it. However it is also a very standard question in Purchasing 101. I've had that similar question in the most favourable of situations. I could see it as their invitation to you to 'close the sale'.

OK they had this attitude given what their previous SEO had failed to do for them. However unfortunately there are a lot of SEO's that create that reaction. So perhaps it's understandable. Again you were there and can best read where they were coming from.

Just my two cents. :)

#9 sanity


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Posted 16 February 2005 - 05:03 PM

If you work with people that you do not like, then you damage your own self esteem. It is better to eat bread bought with money you enjoyed earning, than eat cake bought with money you did not.

Well said OWG and nice to see you here too!

I feel the same way. The sort of work we do is all about relationships and if you don't like the person you're working for you can hardly build a good relationship IMO.

#10 Black_Knight


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Posted 16 February 2005 - 05:17 PM

Nice to see you OWG :wave:

I think I can picture exactly what that call was like - that suddenly, after 45 minutes of frank and intimate exchange, where they've already gained value, they suddenly disengage and remind you that they haven't agreed to pay for any of that help, and more importantly, would still, even after seeing you go the extra miles, shop around for something cheaper.

You immediately know that these clients don't value relationships, which is exactly how they end up with shoddy providers (as with the client you mention and their existing SEO provider). Basically, these types lack character and commitment. They lack virtue and so end up with others who also look down upon such values.

That's quite frequently touted as the better, stronger, more economically viable approach to business - to follow hard logic and harder business than to deal with the 'soft-elements' of loyalty, virtue, commitment, etc. It gave us supermarkets where checkout personnel often fail to even acknowledge your human presence over the local store where the proprieter greeted you personally by name.

I understand perfectly why OWG would never be comfortable with a client who doesn't take business as a personal matter.

Not a 'bad' customer. Not a 'wrong' customer per-se. For some other SEO company, with low prices based on less 'personal' service, this customer would probably be a great one. That's not OWG though, and not me either. :P

#11 A.N.Onym


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Posted 13 March 2006 - 08:26 AM

Just found an article, "How do you fire a client?".

though it also discusses what has already been mentioned here, it also states the way how to actually fire a client.

#12 sanity


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Posted 15 March 2006 - 04:13 PM

Good find A.N.Onym. It also gives a nice summary of the types of clients you would want to fire.

#13 bwelford


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Posted 15 March 2006 - 04:42 PM

A good find indeed, A.N.Onym, as sanity says.

I think a quick rule is that you should only keep clients where you have fun working with them. If they stop being fun, stop working with them.

This also means of course that you should always be looking for new clients. Once you have the luxury of more work than you can really handle, you then can gently fire the ones you have less fun with and keep the ones you have more fun with.

Price can be a great instrument for firing clients as well. They'll think they're firing you when they refuse the price increase. :)

#14 randfish


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Posted 15 March 2006 - 05:12 PM

We've had experience with clients like this many times. It really comes down to a question of, as Ammon said "character", but also trust. Choosing clients who believe in what you're doing and believe in the process and your goodwill carries immense value.

We've been burned on several occassions with clients who didn't put their trust in our process and it always ended with low value from the campaigns due to massive compromises in the process.

Also - I like your idea of ending a relationship via pricing, Barry - very clever :)

Edited by randfish, 15 March 2006 - 05:12 PM.

#15 travis


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Posted 15 March 2006 - 07:33 PM

We try and meet people face to face.

That solves half the battle, because bad or fake potential clients wont do it, and it really allows you to understand the person driving the project.

That really separates the sheep from the wolves. When driving back from an initial meeting, you will know whether the project you are about to scope up and quote on is a winner or not. The quality of the business is the key.

Difficult clients, or ones who are busy and hard to get along with are not always bad projects to work on, as long as the fundamentals of the contract are understood, and things get delivered on time.

Genius level people and adept business managers are usually impossible to deal with. Perfectionism, overly demanding and assertive personality characteristics are usually responsible for getting the business into a successful position in the first place.

So you need to look at the fundamentals of the business involved.

A good business may need a strict manager in order to survive, so you need to take both the business and individuals you will be dealing with into account.

Then you need to decide if the introduction of your services will actually make any recognisable impact.

You would be naive to think a long term relationship will ensue if your design or programming changes nothing in the company you are providing services for.

Edited by travis, 15 March 2006 - 07:35 PM.

#16 EGOL



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Posted 26 May 2006 - 12:32 PM

I rarely take clients but have one to dismiss today. I agreed to do a small job for them on a recommendation from a mutal friend. Sounded like a quick and easy job up front.

They have struggled to get me their input for the work and it trickles in slowly - so instead of getting the job done efficiently their input makes it piecemeal - and is dragging out for months. We also can't get access to some materials which are in the hands of a third party. I call them and they do not call back.

Right now I have a few hundred dollars of their money paid up front as a deposit and my employee has put in about that much in billable time. I want to feel good about this when it is terminated so here is what I will do...

... send them a refund check for all of their deposit, a note saying that we are unable to complete their project, and a CD containing the work we have done.

They might not like getting dropped but since they have gotten all work done plus their money back they can never say that I mistreated them.

#17 WebProfit


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Posted 06 June 2006 - 11:42 PM

EGOL I think thats the best way to go about it. no client is worth worrying over day and night, wondering when it will be complete.
Moving on to the next project is the ideal.

#18 sanity


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Posted 06 June 2006 - 11:50 PM

That's an excellent approach EGOL. Small jobs can work fine if you can do it all at once. Bit by bit can make it time consuming and unprofitable.

Welcome to Cre8 WebProfit! :wave:

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