Filtering Out Bad Clients

Previously, I’d gone into depth about the basics of managing your relationships with your clients which, when you drill down, is about how you manage your communication with them.

Early on, while talking about initial interviews and needs assessment, I’d alluded to the using the initial needs assessment as a filter, not just to identify the prospective clients you want to work with, but, and arguably more importantly, the ones you don’t.

It’s a fact of life that some clients are a joy to work with, and others are, to put it mildly, not. Bad clients don’t just make your life and work harder than they need to be; they also cost you money. There’s the money they’ll cost you on their project, and then there’s the opportunity cost of the money you could have been making by working with a different, better client, but you’re not, because you ended up with a bad client, dragging you down like a boat anchor around your neck.

Fortunately, bad clients are usually bad clients right from the jump, and in your initial interview with them they make themselves known pretty quickly.

It’s rare for a good client to go bad. And if I’m being completely honest and blunt, if the AV pro/client relationship sours and gets worse as the project proceeds, more often than not it’s the AV pro’s fault.

So with that in mind, when conducting the initial interview with prospective clients, keep an eye out for potential red flags, they can indicate that you may not be able to have a productive relationship.

The most obvious one is price sensitivity. Price-is-no-object clients are rare, but they do exist, and they’re wonderful. But most of the time, most people have a budget. And it’s a fact that sometimes their budget doesn’t line up with your expertise. If your firm’s core business is six-figure theater rooms, and the person who’s in your office is looking for a hang-and-bang, it’s probably best to amicably conclude that you won’t be able to help each other.

That said, it’s important to not pre-judge, and if you determine that someone is not the client for you, do so through asking probing questions. I once fielded a phone call from someone who was only looking for a Bose multi-room audio setup. Rather than just saying “Yeah… no,” I asked more questions and got them to meet me at our office. And they ended up with a project worth over half a million dollars. However, for every story like that, I have dozens more where what they wanted just wasn’t in line with what we did.

Similar yet unrelated, anyone who balks at your schedule of retainers, design fees or deposits should be avoided. Your AV work is a business, and not a hobby. Therefore, it stands that you should probably get paid for it. Anyone who’s inclined to haggle with your over your fee schedule is sending up a big red flag. I’d even go so far as to say they’re discharging a flare gun.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing this, I can assure you that if someone isn’t going to play ball with you over your site survey fee or design retainer, they’re not going to be any easier to deal with over progress payments, deposits or the holdback.

As was so succinctly explained to me years ago, “You can’t chase every rabbit.” And savvy AV pros know that not everyone can be their client. It’s best to find that out earlier rather than later.