The Germans always have the best words for everything. In particular, “schadenfreude” is a real banger. If you don’t know, it means “enjoying the misfortunes of others.” I bring this up because we all love talking about work problems — ours and other people’s. Often, we’re all gossiping about the not-perfect clients who range on a scale from “difficult” to “impossible.” It would be nice if every client was awesome, but that’s not the case. Just like not everyone can be your biggest customer, not everyone can be the easiest, either.
When it comes to dealing with clients, it’s important to remember that clients who are “challenging” are not the same as those who are “undesirable.” Of course, there are going to be some prospective clients for whom you’re better off not working, but they’re not as common as the horror stories we all share would make you believe. I’ll go on record as saying that just because someone is a little difficult doesn’t mean you can’t have a positive relationship.
Remember that everyone is not you. People differ, and it makes sense that others will operate differently from you. Not everyone speaks directly or acts decisively.
First of all, it’s important to assess how accurate your impression of someone new is and how much you’re filtering through your own biases. As it was once said to me, and as I’ve passed it on to other salespeople, it’s always worth reflecting on this: “If everyone I met today was a jerk, maybe I’m the one who was being a jerk.”
It’s definitely a two-way street: while you’re assessing your prospective client, they’re assessing you too.
I can think of a few instances where, when initially dealing with a new client relationship, they were so difficult that I couldn’t help but wonder if I was being hazed. But once I’d made it through that initial gauntlet, they were fine to deal with. An important tool in your toolbox for client management is teamwork, believe it or not. If one of your team members best connects with the client, lean into that. Don’t necessarily get bogged down in whose client is whose. Look at it as a team sport and play your positions accordingly.
At one of my old jobs, one of our long-term clients was a lot like some sort of countess from a BBC period drama; she was very rich and a little odd. Brusque and forthright, she had a superpower for getting under people’s skin, including most of our team. For whatever reason, though, she liked me, and I was able to work with her productively on her project. My boss (who couldn’t stand her) was more than happy to have me take the lead on her project and deal with her so he wouldn’t have to.
This happened more than once. Sometimes it was me who couldn’t find rapport with the client, so someone else took the lead. Over time, as a company, we became quite good and figuring out which of us in the front office was the best fit for working with specific clients, and it became routine to operate like that.