When is it time to let a client go?

Turning down new business isn’t easy, but it just might be the best decision you’ll make for your sales team, especially if:

  1. Your company doesn’t have the expertise. (Maybe because the problem your prospect described was not the actual problem. Happens a lot.)
  2. Your team is way too busy to do the best for this prospect.
  3. You recognize the hidden cost of taking on this client. They’re too demanding, lack respect, and nothing is ever right. And they’ll refuse to pay for rework.

These are all valid reasons for turning down new business, and for each problem, I recommend a different solution:

Solution for #1

    • Refer a trusted colleague who can help the prospect. Stay in the loop, and ensure your colleague is moving the buying process along.

Solution for #2

    • Refer the business to a company you know that’s a perfect fit. Be sure to broker the introduction to your prospect.
    • If you have the bandwidth to complete part of the project, do that. Caveat: You take the lead and be the point-person. Of course you will work collaboratively with the other company, but you must stay in the game.

Solution for #3

    • Walk away.

Don’t Waste Your Time on PITAs

One way to ensure you can respond quickly when prospects and clients need you is to stop taking on customers who aren’t worth your time.

You see the warning signs a mile away—prospects who push you on price, threaten to take their business to your competitors, make unreasonable demands, don’t return phone calls, and masquerade as decision-makers when they have no real buying authority. Yet, they expect fast, complete, and reliable delivery of your service.

These are the “pain in the ass” (PITA) prospects in your sales pipeline. And if you’re not careful, they could easily become PITA clients. This is exactly when you should be turning down new business.

(Image attribution: Anna Shvets)

PITA customers are never happy. They drain your energy, test your patience, and waste your time. They demoralize your entire sales team, your customer service counterparts, and any other teams that have to work with them. Yet, companies continue to accept this bad business, thinking it must be better than no business. It’s not!

Do you already have a PITA client, or perhaps more than one? It’s time to dump the junk and fill your sales pipeline with ideal clients—those who make life easy on your sales reps while boosting revenue and helping you get referrals to other ideal clients.

Every buyer isn’t your customer. If someone continues to make unreasonable demands and keeps changing requests and deadlines—even after you’ve given that person exactly what they need—then you probably have a PITA client. Run the other way as fast as you can. I don’t usually suggest sending business to your competition, but in this case, I just might…

Some Customers Aren’t Worth the Headache!

Why is your team making deals with PITAs? Because your sales reps have a quota, and they believe:

    • This one is a big fish. If I do the deal, I’ll go to President’s Club. (They’re already picturing where they’ll spend the hefty bonus you’ll give them.)
    • My company insists I do the deal, so I should just stay quiet about my concerns.
    • My company wants this new logo for their website and case studies.

If you’re pushing your team to bring in as many new clients as possible, they won’t focus on bringing in the right clients. Hopefully, the PITAs will pay their bills. But you’ll pay the hidden cost—the lost opportunity to use your resources generating leads to phenomenal clients you want and need to make money! Collect too many PITA customers and watch your profits dwindle … not a compelling scenario.

But wait, there’s more:

    • You’ll be nickel-and-dimed and then expected to deliver additional services—quickly and at no charge.
    • They’ll challenge the expertise of your sales reps and question their every move.
    • Your resources (and energy) will be drained.
    • Your team will consider mutiny but be too exhausted, frustrated, and demoralized to follow through with it.
    • Your profit margins will be squeezed.
    • Because PITAs hang out with other PITAs, you’ll never want to ask these customers for referrals.

Bad business is bad business. Period. If prospects push you too hard, be willing to walk away. That really turns the tables.

But What If…

You absolutely must have this logo. Then here’s what you do:

    • Consult with your team and let them know this is a PITA. They can expect unreasonable demands, demeaning comments, and missed deadlines.
    • Coach your team on how to handle this PITA without losing morale and commitment. (Fair warning: They might soon start looking for a new job.)
    • Double your price. OK, you probably can’t do that, but you must get more money to make up for the lost time and the impact on your team.
    • Consider training your team on how to handle difficult clients. They will definitely need skills in conflict resolution and emotional intelligence to derail PITA behavior. Get Colleen Stanley’s new book: Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership: The Secret to Developing High-Performance Sales Teams.

Turning down new business isn’t easy. But you do have a choice about the kind of clients you attract. Make the right one!

BOOK SALE ENDING SOON! You’ve got one more week to get my books at a significantly reduced price. August 31 concludes the Summer of Referrals to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of No More Cold Calling. 

Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal

No More Cold Calling: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust

(Featured image attribution: Yan Krukov)

(This post was originally published on Jun 2, 2016 and updated August 24, 2021.)