How Do You Really Deal With a Difficult Client?

Updated on February 6, 2018
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Jonny has been a B2B journalist and editor and is currently a website developer while co-running a business networking organization.

Making the Best of a Less Than Perfect Client

Breathe. Repeat to yourself this simple, healing mantra: "The client that doesn't have a budget, won't tell you their goals or products, doesn't understand the rudiments and logistics of business (least of all replicating it online), and is obviously shopping around without understanding what they want is an opportunity to prove your service. Relax and stay friendly."

You'll spot or maybe even 'feel' the conflict in the above. You as a sales rep, consultant, provider or owner are trying your best to stay grounded while having your time seemingly wasted. Or are you being led up a blind alley? Are they secretly working for a rival? Or are you more the wily type and can see a chance to rinse someone? Finding it difficult to convince yourself the situation is an opportunity?

Okay. Grab a coffee. Make it a decaf if you need to. Let's look at a fresh set of dos and don'ts and see if we can't apply some new practices to your sales offering.

Keep an Ear Open for Opportunity Knocking

Confounded by a client's lack of nous? Don't take it personally.
Confounded by a client's lack of nous? Don't take it personally. | Source

Don't Let Go Because of Pride

You can tell yourself you only take the clients that bite straight away or believe in 100% what you're offering should be snapped up now. Is this practical or realistic for them? Conversely, is not letting go really saying you don't know what you're doing? Not giving in to the inner panic voice is an opportunity to become stronger at your game. Think about it, the client has come to you for a car and you haven't found a way to sell them one?

Alright, perhaps even after half an hour they reveal they have no money after being cagey, don't you have a payment plan for them? How about a pay-as-you-go system to keep them in the loop to show them exactly what they're in for? This piece by piece option helps educate the client not only in calibrating their expectations, but shows them how great you are to work with. Plus, it saves you time and encourages the client to find the will, and the investment funds, by seeing the way.

Don't Doubt Yourself If You're Delivering

Some business advisers say to survive you must aim for the money and the bottom line as a priority. Is this the kind of approach inspired by Lord Sugar or a 'similarly 'sweet' boss? Does this give you pause and make you indecisive when dealing with a client that needs some extra guidance?

There is no problem if the client came to you effectively asking for information or responded to your pitch. In reality, the ethical question only comes into play if you don't execute your services well or deliver inappropriate things: Then it may become a long-term problem that could affect your reputation and ruin theirs.

But if you do deliver on the remit you've both agreed to and it works for both, there is no recourse. Any extra income made is recompense for valuable business time spent with a client who needs their hand holding. If the client is happy in the end, who is to argue what you've managed to charge? You can stop doubting yourself: You’re not actually taking advantage of anyone or indeed being as ruthless as you think, you’re supporting your expenses, profit margin and business model.

Don't Dither and Let Things Get Out of Hand

Is your business world really full of gangsters? Learn to 'lego' of your client issues.
Is your business world really full of gangsters? Learn to 'lego' of your client issues.

Don't Just Carry On and Make Things Worse

Imagine ‘proceeding’ in a passive-aggressive, non-responsive way where you are overthinking the situation, trying to 'help' a client when you’re clearly being supercilious and snippy. This indeed is the evil twin of letting the client go and just as counter-productive. In fact, because you are still in the game, you are still providing examples of bad to moderately bearable service for customers to discuss and mull over with others.

Instead, you’ve fudged, not budged, begrudged and are now trudging through an unhappy time for the both of you. How fast have you seen the word get around about others' bad experiences? Yes, you do need to go the extra yard for an ignoramus (that’s the factual definition where they know nothing), so, with the best and most business-like meaning of the expression: deal with it. The client has come to you and it’s your job to lead them through the prospects of an improved situation: they want to know more.

By swerving a decisive action of providing real service, you’d make it worse by carrying on communications with a teenage attitude, so confusing them. Either quit and take time out with yourself for self-analysis, or experiment with trying a friendlier, clearer approach. The nicer way is actually the opposite of weakness and stupidity, plus it’s what being professional is: it requires strength. Swerve swerving and view the obstacles as the road.

Do Stay Grounded

The title of this option is self-explanatory, so if the penny hasn't dropped as to why this should be so, keep practicing it until you do. It's easy enough to do. Keep your goals and your eye on the stars by all means. Making a name takes time and involves good and bad experiences, as does learning to provide great customer service from understanding your offering from top to bottom.

Surely you would have met naïve people trying out a business before? You will also know sharks who also drive a hard bargain. Perhaps you meet a new faux-savvy new-to-business fan of The Apprentice who is a toxic mix of the two. The recorded consistency (emails/calendared consultation/job agreement work-time sign-off sheets) you provide are a great fall back, as will be your calm confidence if they persist beyond the agreement parameters. It's business, people expect you to show them your boundaries, whether they reveal this obvious practice or not.

Don't Let Obstacles Get in Your Way

Part of your service offer might be to go that extra yard
Part of your service offer might be to go that extra yard

Do Manage Client Desires and Deliver Well

Ultimately the reality is that every client is different and there is nothing personal about their approach. They are on their own journey of business discovery. The secret when dealing with clients who aren't clued up is not to feed their egos and their whims, but to help manage their expectations for their business and then deliver on them.

Your job is to ensure they discover a service or product they not only want and have a great experience utilizing, but that also makes them feel great using again and gives them the incentive to tell others about. The aim is not just sales, it's repeat sales from an excellent reputation.

Now perhaps if you read the mantra at the beginning of this article, you can see how the conflict dissipates?

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© 2018 Jonny Wills

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