Fire some clients and grow the business

Not all clients are equal. Some are better than others! Over time it is easy to allow certain client relationships to become dysfunctional and problematic. Problem clients range from wanting everything at rush to bullying behaviour to ‘price-pummellers’. If a child is allowed anything it wants whenever it wants, what does that child turn into? A nightmare, a brat or even a monster. Whose fault is that, the parents’ or the child’s? The parents of course. Similarly with for us we get the clients we deserve! If you tolerate bad behaviour then don’t be surprised if you get more bad behaviour. The past is the best predictor of future behaviour.

One of my clients resigned a client of theirs that had become intolerable. Their client had become so unpleasant and bullying that no one was willing to work on their business. When my client actually resigned them, the client was surprised as they had no idea how badly they were behaving. They pleaded to be given a second chance. The shoe is now well and truly on the other foot.

1.    Identify your ‘bottom clients’

Think through your client base, if you had more business than you could cope with, which of your clients would you fire? One well-known management consultancy fires their bottom 5% of clients each and every year. So what holds us back? – Fear and lack of confidence often. Before you fire a problem client first try to resolve the causes of the problem. If that doesn’t work then find a more lucrative replacement. Don’t simply chase sales growth, chase profitable sales growth.

2.    Slow down to go faster

When I run workshops and speak at conferences I am often told how busy people are. It’s easy to be ‘busy fools’ running faster, working harder and working longer. Perversely when we slow down and take time to think we will go faster and be more productive. Let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s take responsibility and see clients as investments. Invest your time and effort into your most profitable, and potentially most profitable, clients.

3.    Where do you want to be in 2016?

Think about what you want your business to be like in 2 year’s time. How does it compare to today? Which clients will be your long term sustainable clients? Which clients do you want to pass to a competitor?

4.    ‘ON’ not ‘IN’

Take time to work ON the business not IN the business. Find time to think more, not just ‘do’. What does an ideal client look like? To me it’s not just about their spend. It’s about many other factors such as do they pay on time? Do they provide referrals? Do they appreciate and respect your contribution valuing you as a Trusted Adviser?

5.    Find better clients

Find new clients to replace the problematic ones. Target those in the same or similar sector or with similar problems. Find clients where your expertise is appreciated by senior decision makers.

6.    Kill the messenger

Beware of being passed down to ‘messengers’ who have no authority, budget responsibility or lack the bigger picture. Work with clients who want a peer to peer relationship not those who want a buyer-supplier transactional relationship which only cares about price.

7.    Find the right time

Choose your timing to replace troublesome clients – do it when you are on a roll, a winning streak.

8.    Spread the business

Make sure you are not over-reliant on any one client. Otherwise this will reduce your confidence dramatically. No client bigger than 15% of your business.

9.    It comes from the top

The culture of the senior team is critical. Their approach to clients will cascade through to the sales team.

10.  Business never stands still

Relationships, whether personal or business, change over time. Either upwards or downwards, never standing still. The best client relationships grow over time but they also probably started off on Day1 with a joint agreement on the right ‘rules of engagement’.

The Chinese say “When strong winds blow, some men hide behind walls, others build windmills” Which will you do next time there’s a strong wind? Make it your choice and take responsibility for your future.