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“Firing” Your Client – When Enough Finally Becomes “Enough”

September 16, 2010

Recently I’ve had the chance to catch up and have a beer with an old friend and colleague.  Over a couple of pints we were covering the basics – family, friend updates, how’s business, etc…

When I brought up the topic of this new blog and what I was hoping to accomplish with it, he said, “Boy I’ve got a topic for you – how do you suggest I handle the WORST client in the world?”

I thought about that and while no immediate clients come to mind offhand, I can certainly recall a few that I would nominate to the all-time Hall of Shame.  I can honestly say without any reservations that my current role has been absent from ultra-difficult prospects/clients, but looking back at my career there are still those that STILL bug me, even though I’ve long since divorced them.

Points to Clarify:

1.       I do not mean those clients or prospects that honestly “forget” to do things they’re supposed to do, like send in the signed contract on the last day of the month, email deliverables for your campaign, submit copy by a deadline, etc.

2.       In every sales scenario, there’s going to be some degree of negotiation, sometimes tough and heated exchanges.  I’m not talking about the buyer with unreasonable pricing expectations that forces you to race to the bottom.

3.       I’m also not talking about the whiney, “I need my ego serviced/my issue dealt with immediately/my call returned instantly” type of thing.

In sales, sometimes it’s time to put your big-boy pants on and suck it up!

What I’m referring to is that client who thinks their paid (or promise implied to pay) invoice entitles them to treat you and everyone from your organization they come into contact like dirt.  Disrespect for your time, your effort, and your lower station in life.

On one hand, I feel as if the sales professional (notice I used the “P” word) has a responsibility to their management and company, not to mention the mouths to feed at home, to do what it takes to bring the bacon home.

On the other hand, when spoken to with profanity or an unprofessional manner, how much should you be expected to take?  Beyond how you’re treated, how about the service/support/accounting team members this individual touches with their negativity death-ray.

(*) My own personal take – I have found that personalities like this that routinely treat their business partners in this fashion often respond to a similar (yet professional) pushback.  Even if you have to raise your voice a little, plainly state that the relationship really ought to end unless we can move forward in a constructive and professional manner.  Think about whether or not you would want someone to speak to your wife, mother, or daughter that way in their respective workplaces.

Of course you need to consider the following:

  • If the account leaves, how damaging is it?  Is the abuse, even if managed better, worth the revenue it brings?
  • How will management react?  If they’re nonsupport of you and your decision to NOT be talked to or treated in an abusive manner, is that a management structure you see yourself flourishing under?

This is a difficult topic for a lot of reasons.  Where do you come down on this issue?  Are you compelled to stay in there and take the abuse, so you fight back moderately while trying to salvage the relationship as best you can before giving the ol’ heave-ho?

  1. Joe Schmidt permalink
    September 16, 2010 9:06 am

    When I was in the construction business, I dealt with quite a few “high maintenance”, easily agitated, alcolohic clients. They were also among the most lucrudive. Getting yelled at on a job site, there was an almost requirement to yell back- or risk losing the respect of your own men and the contractors. It was ugly, but worked. And if you didn’t have thick skin, you didn’t survive.
    There was one masonry contractor that I did “fire”- and he and his whole company were the worst potty mouthed, mis-behaving, scene making, loud kind of jerks around. I also did over 6 figures with them annually.
    I fired them, with my bosses consent, because they were trying to do something unsafe and illegal with our products. The verbal abuse was irrevalant.

    I don’t think I would tolerate that in this stage of my carreer though – from either client of supervisor.

  2. September 16, 2010 5:47 pm

    We’re talking about the absolute “Worst” right? If that’s really the case then you can always refer them to a competitor. Let someone else’s organization waste their resources and free-up your own. Win-Win! I have had this approach come full circle when, through an acquisition, you end up right back where you started. Karma can be a bitch. It’s worth taking a moment to realize that these clients probably treat everyone poorly and there might be a reason. If you were in their shoes you might be just as bad. Maybe you are. Maybe you just had an “Aha” moment.

  3. September 16, 2010 6:39 pm

    That’s a great point Alex. I sometimes wonder how these individuals treat their own support teams (admin, marketing agencies, etc) internally.

  4. Joe DiCioccio permalink
    September 16, 2010 10:32 pm

    You know there are some great things here, the unfortunate ones are that as sales pros we are always seen as the face of the company regardless of how our company’s other depts interact with the customer base. It seems that since we are the relationship developer, we are the relationship keeper, we are also the first to be called when something goes wrong, whether its our fault or not and expected to get it fixed.

    I’ve had many customers like this, the best way I’ve found to get around it was to ask point blank if you are that unhappy with my company’s service why are you staying with us? Contract or no contract, you always have the option to seek other providers. In some situations it has defused situations and others has caused a sudden decrease in my customer base.

  5. September 17, 2010 8:28 am

    Joe’s comment reminds me something you often see in used car dealerships. A seemingly savvy shopper lists all of things wrong with the car in an effort to get the salesman to lower the price. A dent here, a scratch there, high mileage. So the salesman asks, “Then why do you want to buy the car?” As professionals we have to be willing to say, “No”.

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