Are Your Clients Sucking the Life Out of You?

Bad clients are bad for business. They can take an inordinate amount of time to service. They can complain about the irrelevant. They may not pay their bills, or at least drag out the payments forever. They can be a huge emotional drain. Or, more often than we care to know, they can be all of the above.

One course of action is to fire the bad client. With their termination, so goes the headaches, the exorbitant time, the emotional drain. But what if that client is buying a very profitable product from you? What if they are 60% of the revenue for your service department? Firing them will surely remove your headaches, but it could also put your business out of business.

All bad clients aren’t made the same. Before you choose between a “keep ’em or kill ’em” approach to bad clients, take these steps:

1. Conduct a Client Assessment – All clients are not created. This is true for both good clients and bad. Assess that bad client on factors such as their historical revenue, projected future revenue, Immutable Laws, etc. If a client was a good guy in the past, they have the potential to return. Nudge them gently (the strategies are below) and try to get them back to their former self. Of course if they were always bad, it is unlikely you will be able to change who they are.

2. There Is A Reason – There is a reason they keep doing business with you. They may not have much redeeming value (minus the fact that they spend so much money with you), but you clearly have redeeming value to them. Schedule a meeting with client and explain the challenges you are facing with them and that it is difficult to near impossible for your company to tolerate. Ask them if they will make a commitment to improve. They may say no, but either way it can’t make matters worse.

3. Match Personalities – Businesses are made up of people. Their people and yours. Sometimes the business difficulties are just a personality mismatch. The client may have a bad apple, or (shockingly) you may be the bad apple. Ask the client if they will assign a new liason from the company. Even if you are dealing with the boss over at the client, he/she may be willing to let you work with one of his colleagues instead (note: a jerk boss would likely use the term “subservient” or “bitches” or something, instead of colleagues). Alternatively, try changing up the liason on your side. You might have an employee who can deal with the client much better than you can.

4. Lay Down The Law – This is the tough part of being a vendor, but critically important… you need to lay down the rules of what is acceptable or not. Meet with the client (face to face is MUCH preferable) and tell them exactly what is wrong, exactly what they need to do to fix it, and exactly what the consequences will be if they don’t take the action you request.

5. Set A Stop Loss – Once you had the “Lay Down The Law” talk, or used another method to address the client, put a time frame on when this must take full affect. Commit to the action you will take at that time, based on what the client does. Stick to it. If you waffle when they don’t comply, you will be trapped forever.

6. Get Out Of The Trap – If nothing fixes the problem, yet you decide to continue the relationship, you need to realize the problem is NOT the clients but yours. Your actions indicate that you are willing to be treated the way they are treating you, so it is in fact just for them to continue. Your actions speak louder than your words. You are in the trap. At this point, the only way out is to take your final stand and just fire that client and let the chips fall where they may.

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