Picking great clients image of angry customer

How To Select Great Clients

During my many decades of being in business I have had partners, associates, fellow directors and investors and a very large number of clients and customers.

And not all of them have been pleasant to work with.

Life’s too short, so it makes sense to work with people you like (don’t worry, if you’re desperate for work I ‘get’ it – more on that in a bit).

So how do you spot the bad ones from the good ones before you commit?

Like everything in business, you apply tests.

Most people use their basic senses plus intuition – which is something I have been cultivating in myself for a while now and believe is our most underused sense (in terms of being conscious of it).

But reading a book by its cover rarely reveals the complete picture (we humans are really good at lying impressing people when we need to).

Perry Marshall recommends taking people out to dinner 3 times.

This lets you watch how they react to waiters and other ‘lowly’ workers.

Perry points out that if they get angry with other people, they will more than likely get angry with you too at some point.

This could get expensive of course – unless they always pay – in which case this could be the start of a wonderful relationship (but you would offer to pay, wouldn’t you?)

It’s worth watching if they offer to leave a tip. Generous people are always more pleasant to work with.

Restaurants aside, what else can you do?

A key thing is to discover how defensive someone is. How open they are to new ideas and change.

And it’s all done with questions. Simple little questions.

Start with observational questions.

For example: “What do you think of such and such?” (if their opinions are congruent with yours then you are off to a good start – providing you didn’t tell them first of course!).

Follow with idea questions to find out about their imaginations and open/closed states (“Do you love gadgets/new things?”). If you’re an ‘explorer’ type and they’re a ‘builder’ you will fall out very quickly.

It’s worth taking a look at Helen Fisher’s talk on TedX for more on this:

Find out how proactive they are: “How have you tried to fix that in the past?” (proactive people have tons of agency, they have a ‘can do’ attitude).

And throw in some collaboration questions:

“Who have you worked with in the past?”

“How did that go?”

Asking questions like this will soon let you know what the person is like (and how they are likely to describe YOU in future when someone else asks).

Now, what about if you’re desperate for business and feel you can’t turn anyone down no matter how bad they’re character traits?

Own the space. You’re the boss. Let them know you are in control and for them to work with you, you will need 100% commitment from them (BTW, do this anyway regardless of their character).

If you don’t do this and you pick an obnoxious client, you will soon wish you just took a job instead.

One last thing. To ‘own the space’ take a look at Amy Cuddy’s research.


Quentin Pain

My earliest ambition was to become a rockstar (my band once backed The Waves who went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest). Unfortunately I decided to start a business to support my rock star dream, and as luck would have it, the business took off big time and the rock star dream died. I was 23. By the time I reached 50, my total business count was 6. The last one was Accountz that went from zero to 36,000 customers in 6 years. I now run ProofMEDIA Ltd and my specialism is copy that wins trust, engagement and long term sales. I'm also a published author (including a Dummies title), have won many awards including the IAB Small Business Mentor of the Year, and am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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