The key to a healthy relationship is open, clear communication. That applies to not only personal relationships, but also business ones. And central to having a positive relationship with your clients is how well you and they communicate with each other. That clarity has to begin right away. In the initial discussion and subsequent needs assessment, that discussion is a necessary filter — the answers you get to the questions you ask help you identify the prospective clients you want to work with, as well as the ones you don’t.
Problem clients aren’t just hard to work with; they also cost you money. Their project may or may not end up being profitable or unprofitable, but there’s also the opportunity cost of the profit margin you could have gotten from working with a different, better client. But you don’t have a better client — you have this one. The good news is that clients with the potential to be a problem display plenty of red flags right out of the gate. The initial interview will usually make that clear.
Someone told me long ago that “you can’t chase every rabbit.” If the customer and the project are not a good fit, you’re better off being clear about that upfront. You can suggest alternatives they can reach out to rather than trying to make them fit in with your firm like a square peg in a round hole.
It’s not an absolute determiner, but price sensitivity can be an issue. We all love clients for whom price is no object. They’re rare, but they do exist. But realistically, almost everyone has a budget. Big or small, what they want to spend is what they want to spend. However, at this stage, it’s important to not pre-judge prospective clients. Ask probing questions and listen to their answers. Then ask deeper questions based on the information they give you.
Don’t forget that sometimes what the prospective client tells you they want may initially be smaller before they see what you are capable of doing for them. More than once, when talking to new clients in early discussions, the scope of the project they wanted to undertake expanded substantially from what originally compelled them to walk through the front door. That’s wonderful when it happens, but for every instance of that, there are dozens of times where what the client walked in wanting was what they wanted, and nothing more. And that’s fine too, provided that it’s in line with what you offer, and taking on their project makes sense.
As red flags go, price sensitivity to total project cost is not an immediate deal-breaker, whereas sensitivity to the cost of your schedule of retainers, design fees or deposits is a much more significant obstacle. I’ll be blunt: If someone isn’t okay with your costs for the site survey or design retainer, they’re not going to be any easier to deal with when it comes to deposits, progress payments or the holdback. Better to find that out now rather than later.
Once a project is underway, it’s rare for a good client to go bad. From what I’ve seen, if the AV pro/client relationship goes sour, more often than not, it’s the AV pro’s fault. The best way to win a battle is to not have to fight it in the first place. Keeping your communications prompt and open at every step goes a long way to eliminate conflict. If a problem occurs, having solutions for the client to choose from goes a long way to keep things copacetic.