Every prospective client represents an exciting new opportunity for your business. Unfortunately, not all those prospects turn out to be the right fit — whether it’s a budget issue, a personality conflict or a situation that’s outside your expertise, you often know from your initial consultation if someone’s going to be a problem to work with.
In some cases, your gut will tell you to walk away from this potential client. But what if you’re on the fence and think you might be able to build a good professional relationship? Here’s how eight Forbes Coaches Council members recommend handling your prospect.
1. Treat Your Prospect Call As An Interview
Often during the prospect to customer process, you might end up with a client who is a “problem.” We can loosely define a problem as someone who pushes the boundaries of the scope of work. Perhaps they have unrealistic expectations of responsiveness, call during off hours or push boundaries. During the sales process, you should be interviewing your prospects. Consider referring them out. – Maresa Friedman, Executive Cat Herder
2. Identify Your Assumptions And Biases, But Go With Your Intuition
It’s natural to have a gut reaction and make a preliminary assessment based on initial interactions. Before you completely walk away, check your unconscious biases first. Dig deeper. Did the prospect say or do something that triggered a past negative memory? Do you have a context of their background, motivational triggers and values? After research, if you still have doubts, walk away. – Christie Lindor, The MECE Muse
3. Speak Up And Address Your Concerns Right Away
I like to have that conversation early in the relationship. Once I suspect that a prospect and I may be working in different directions, I’ll stop what we’re doing and address the issue. The longer a problem is allowed to fester, the more time and money is being wasted by both of us. It’s better to nip it in the bud early, even if that means the relationship is terminated. – Jim Judy, TryFranchising.com
4. Identify Their Personality Type
Typically difficult prospects fall into certain categories: the know-it-all, the busy-bee, the skeptic, the waffler, the whiner, the hardball and many others. Call them out by saying they appear to be a certain personality type and your consulting style doesn’t compliment that personality. Let them know you’re happy to refer them to someone else who may be better suited to work with them. – Lori Manns, Quality Media Consultant Group
5. Set Clear Expectations
The best way to handle a prospect whom you suspect will be a problem to work with — other than walking away — is to set clear expectations early. Your deliverables need to be spelled out explicitly as well as what you will not be delivering, including all potential related costs. What are your boundaries? Agree to a set of expectations about communication and how you will handle conflicts. – Eugene Dilan, Psy.D., DILAN Consulting Group
6. Ask For References
I find it curious that well-referenced people and businesses still have to answer questions on references but our prospects come in unreferenced. Many times businesses and salespeople are so eager to obtain a new customer they don’t qualify them in terms of their integrity and how they will behave. Will your clients be the right fit? Ask yourself, ask them and sometimes ask for references. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
7. Think About How That Prospect Would Fit Into The Big Picture
If you are in a position where you are truly concerned with how difficult a prospect may be to work with, walk away. Trust your gut instinct. When you focus on specific opportunities or prospects, you are not considering your overall business. What impact will this prospect have on your other clients, on your attitude, on your energy and your ability to attract the next great client? – Jim Vaselopulos, Rafti Advisors, Inc.
8. Don’t Waste Your Time
Dealing with a client who might be a problem is one thing. Dealing with a prospect who might be trouble is another. Don’t waste your efforts trying to turn a prospect into a troubled client. There is no upside in that. Instead, work with other prospects where you believe you can develop quality relationships. – Donald Hatter, Donald Hatter Inc.