Small Business Sales Tips: Using a "Monkey Wrench" to Get Better Clients

Updated on June 8, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years experience in marketing and sales including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.


No doubt you've heard the term monkey wrench applied to something other than to the go-to tool for plumbers! The slang reference refers to an obstacle or challenge that impedes progress. But I'm here to tell you that you can use the concept to make your small business sales more productive and profitable.

Let's look at some examples.

The "Monkey Wrench" Sales Technique in Action

Example #1: I offer freelance editing services online. Occasionally, I'll be approached by a potential client who wants to negotiate the price, even though my prices are very reasonable. So I use the monkey wrench of standing firm on my price to weed out these low paying, and potentially problematic, prospects.

Example #2: A very busy pro bookkeeper friend of mine has decided to only serve clients virtually. That's the first monkey wrench. But then she adds a few more by steering potential prospects to answer a series of questions about their needs (that's one) before connecting with her. Then if their answers are relevant, they are invited to a book a brief call through her online appointment scheduling (that's two). Only if that call is successful will she take them on (that's three). But what if the prospect fails the questions or is found to be a bad fit during the call? As appropriate, she will refer them to talented and more suitable colleagues in her network (that's four).

Example #3: As I am transitioning my services from offline to online, I still have a significant offline network who is used to picking up the phone or shooting off an email to talk to me about their upcoming book projects. What I've found is that these calls to clarify needs take massive amounts of my time. Some want validation for their pet projects. Others are completely clueless about writing a book and need more of a coach (for business or books) than an editor. Still others want to pick my brain. Therefore, before I pick up the phone, I send everyone to my sales page for my editing services so they know exactly what I am willing to offer (in terms of both services and price) and how I offer it. A few have moved forward to booking with me. But the others? Well, if and when they're ready, at least they know who I am and where to find me.

Example #4: Writing a book is tough! Getting valuable feedback can be a help as a book is being developed. So I recommend that authors go with an inexpensive critique of their work before they invest in more pricey full scale editing. This not only helps me get author clients who are prepared for more rigorous work, but it helps them save dollars and time. So this monkey wrench serves everyone well!

Integrating a Monkey Wrench in Your Sales Process

To small businesspeople, the thought of throwing a curve into the sales process can be scary. Sales can be scarce and they fear that not being seen as customer-service-oriented will drive away potential customers. Indeed that might happen. But serving clients that are not ideal can drive down both revenues and profits. Serving unsuitable clients can often result in trying to do the impossible which increases costs and robs business owners of time that could be spent searching or serving ideal customers.

The monkey wrench can be a valuable tool in your sales and customer service toolbox. Ways to integrate into your small business include:

  • Self-Selection. Being very clear on your website and marketing materials about whom you serve, what you do, and how you serve customers can cause many unsuitable prospects to move on and not waste your time in the first place.
  • Treating a Sales Conversation as a Customer "Interview." Any sales conversation (such as that conducted by my bookkeeper friend) is technically a customer "interview." Most people have heard about the necessity to fire bad fit clients. But the mental shift of treating these initial contacts as hiring interviews helps small business folks avoid trying to "sell" to everyone.
  • Onboarding Procedure. Even if a less than ideal client makes it through the monkey wrench pipeline, a solid onboarding procedure can help either party walk away before too much time or money is invested. Have an attorney draft a contract and/or terms of service that includes language about how to end the relationship. Using my bookkeeping friend's example again, if a client doesn't provide the necessary documents and access according to agreed terms, she can have an honest conversation with them about the future or ending their relationship.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Howdy, billybuc! So glad you have your customer queue filled. That's a good feeling. So glad you took a moment to stop by. Happy Thursday to you, too!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I'll file this in my Heidi file in case I need it later. Right now I have all the customers I can handle and they are all good ones. :) Happy Thursday my friend.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, there's nothing worse than trying to be a superhero and be everything to everybody. Trust me, I've tried it and learned my lesson. Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful day!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, Larry, for stopping by! Glad you found it useful. Cheers!

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 

    3 years ago from Oklahoma

    Very helpful!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    3 years ago from USA

    Some people try to be all things to all customers and that's a mistake. You provide some good advice here on avoiding the trap.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks for the kind words, alekhouse! Glad you enjoyed it. Have a great day!

  • alekhouse profile image

    Nancy Hinchliff 

    3 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

    Nice article....well written and organized.


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