Anything over zero toxic clients is more than anyone’s fair share of them. Ideally, you and I never should find ourselves in a situation where we are contractually obligated to toxic clients.
You tell yourself: “Next time will be different.” But it isn’t. You continue to make yourself crazy by getting yourself into the following “Oops I did it again” scenarios.
Isn’t it time to develop a protocol for dealing with toxic clients? Let’s explore together how to:
- Recognize toxic clients;
- Regulate how you work with them (if you work with them at all); and
- Avoid them in the future.
Scenario 1: “Fixers” have a fatal attraction to Inherited Toxic Clients. You work for a sales, engineering or software team. Your predecessor either has left the company or absolutely refuses to work with this toxic client anymore.
You are a fixer. You need to show your team that you can deal with toxic clients better than they can. You are devoted to nurturing and compromising in order to win that client over. You are on a mission to fix the type of person they inherently are. You want to delight the client with your work and renew their contract with a big upsell.
Except that’s not what happens, is it?
While you are the self-appointed fixer of toxic clients, they remain set in their ways. You never know where you stand with them. They are decision-making shape-shifters with enigmatic personas and bad tempers. The work you do for them is never enough. They second-guess every decision. What is worse, they are time- and productivity-consuming sinkholes as they slowly erode your professional self-confidence. That’s how they control everything.
My advice: Never work with a customer until you have a solid understanding of your A-List customer personas. Create a set of benchmark specifications. Get started by downloading my Grade Your Customers Worksheet. Then, if you have professional concerns about certain clients, don’t rationalize away your instincts. Avoid going it alone. Instead, work with your team and your management. Create a strategy and a timeline to stop passing around toxic customers like hot potatoes. Collaborate to develop a toxic customer protocol guide. Positively impact each other’s professional development (and sanity).
Scenario 2: Leaders who wear “Professional Rose-Colored Glasses” have a fatal attraction to Toxic Clients. When you “wear rose colored glasses”, as the expression goes, you sense things are going along far better than they really are. You already are a successful business leader or consultant. You are extremely competent at what you do. You work hard to develop a solid pipeline of business. Then you identify and land a contract that is almost too good, and too lucrative, to be true. In fact, every time you speak with your client contact, more and more opportunities to work with her company present themselves.
Because you are so good at what you do, you get sucked into providing proposal after proposal to the company, even though you know better. You have your rose-colored glasses on. You rationalize that it only is a matter of days or weeks or months before they are going to return that signed contract on the first proposed project.
Except they don’t, do they? There are more conference calls with other key decision makers who now are popping out of the woodwork to become involved in the multiple proposed projects which are on the table.
Two important red flags are raised as your time, productivity and expertise are freely donated to this all-too-common scenario.
- You detect that these potential clients are toxic when they work with each other. There’s a lot of in-fighting and turf-protecting going on. Part of the reason that there now are so many proposals on the table is that they can’t make up their minds about anything because they cannot collaborate together.
- These customers do not treat you respectfully. They are toying with you just like they toy with each other. They have zero appreciation for your expertise. In fact, the only expertise each individual extols is their own personal area of specialization.
My advice: Run. Fast. Real fast. Unless you specifically are being hired to deal with the dysfunction described in this scenario (some of us are, some of us do), you will never be hired. You will continue to be led on by your customer contact. You will give away valuable expertise during a never-ending set of conference calls. It’s hard to walk away from the promise of a lucrative contract. To gain perspective, speak with your colleagues or a trusted coaching resource. Create a strategy and a timeline for early detection and detoxification of your pipeline from dysfunctional clients like these. You will free your wonderful mind to work with the types of customers who are far more appreciative of your expertise, and who are excited to sign a contract and pay for your services.
Start your toxic client detection protocol by downloading my Grade Your Customers Worksheet. I use this worksheet myself!
Have any toxic client war stories to share? 🙂
Babette Ten Haken is a management consultant, strategist and coach. She is the Founder and President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC. Babette has one of the most distinctive voices in today’s workforce, professional development and customer success communities. She traverses the interface between human capital strategy for hiring and developing collaborative technical and non-technical employees. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.
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