February 24. 2018 9:19PM

Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: Some customers just aren't the right fit


Early in my career, I was working for a technology company and vividly remember a situation where I lost my temper with a co-worker.

I was in a sales role and had recently brought in a new customer. We were in the process of a fairly large and complex project that involved numerous people from various departments within the company.

The project wasn't going as smoothly as anyone would have liked. The customer was making some very unrealistic demands and asking for things that were way out of scope of the original agreement. It wasn't a fun experience for anyone involved. And then in an internal meeting, my co-worker said, "You know what? I just don't think they are a good client for us."

I lost it and said things I probably shouldn't have. I reacted instantly, and immediately went into defense mode. Of course, this individual was not in sales and really had no appreciation for the work that goes into landing a new customer. I asked him if he understood business finance and said that without customers, he wouldn't have a job. He was clueless and didn't seem to care, and I think that was a big reason why I reacted the way I did.

But what I ultimately learned is that he was absolutely right. I just couldn't see it and hadn't really learned the unfortunate reality - that some customers just aren't a good fit for your company. And as a sales and business development guy, trust me, that is painful for me to say.

Let's face it; there are some very demanding people in the world. And in most business partnerships, the stakes and expectations are high on the client side of things. They are likely spending a decent amount of money on whatever product you sell or service you provide. And they expect things to be done right. You would too if you were in their shoes.

However, there are also some people who have very unrealistic expectations and who can be difficult to manage.

Here are a few examples and things to watch out for. If you can think of clients that fall into these categories, there's a chance you might have a customer on your hands with whom you'd be better off parting ways.

Always beating you up over price: This is one of my pet peeves. Your customers have to recognize the value in what you do. They have to understand that you also work for a business, and not a nonprofit. You're there to make healthy, profitable and win-win deals for the company. It gets tiring when customers are constantly beating you up over price and threatening to go somewhere else. It takes time to develop partnerships where there is trust and perceived value, but that doesn't make it OK for someone to constantly beat you up for a lower price.

Poor planning and fire drills: The old saying, "Lack of planning on your part doesn't constitute an emergency on mine" is an important one in business. Sure, things happen at the last minute, and that's to be expected. But if you have a client who stinks at planning and everything is last minute, that can put a huge strain on you and your internal teams.

In some businesses, this is OK, but for the most part, fire drills always cause more problems than they're actually worth. You can help coach customers through this, but I've found that it's usually a much larger problem that you likely won't be able to influence or solve.

Lack of trust: Some people are just skeptical by nature. And that's an element of business that typically evolves and gets better. But there are some people who just question everything you do. It's not only unhealthy and tiring, it also impacts the value you can bring to the partnership if the client won't let you and your team execute and do what is best for them.

Of course, trust doesn't get built overnight, but if you have long-term customers that question everything, it may be a sign.

Too much time: Some clients require a lot of hand holding and time in order to keep them happy. They may be demanding and ask for a lot of extra things that cause a lot of unnecessary work for a lot of people. Comparing the amount of business a client does with you versus the amount of time and resources they require is a very good indicator to determine whether or not it makes sense to keep them as a customer. The exercise alone can be eye opening.

This is a tough topic to discuss and not easy to accept for any sales professional. As much as we want to sell to everyone, it's important to have the skill to recognize when it's time to move on.

Christopher Thompson (chris.thompson@talientaction.com) is the vice president of business development at Talient Action Group in Manchester. Closing the Deal appears weekly.