Need to fire a deadbeat client? Here's how.

Last week I argued that recruiters (and indeed all service providers), need to fire clients who are uncooperative or unprofitable.

Plenty of ‘The Savage Truth’ readers agreed, but many asked, “How do I actually do it?”.

Fair question. And the truth is that it is not easy. But there are two guiding principals I have found are fundamental for this to work out well.

•    Be upfront and crystal-clear about what you are doing, and why.
•    Be scrupulously polite and always leave the door open.

Firstly, before you sit the client down for a good firing, you must decide whether there are any circumstances where you would do business with this client again. Usually that is the case. That being so, it’s crucial to leave the communication door open for the relationship to be picked up again, if the circumstances are right.

Occasionally, usually where the client has been obnoxious or dishonest, you may decide never to do business with this person again (a liberating feeling, I promise!). In which case, you can kill the thing stone dead, there and then. But still politely. Extra enemies, none of us need.

So, how to go about doing the deed?

1. Firstly, if possible, physically sit down with your client, face to face. If that’s not possible, then over the phone is the next best thing. Email? Never works. Always ends ugly. Don’t go there.

2. Secondly, your tone is collaborative (avoid revealing the anger and bitterness and hate and frustration and annoyance you really feel!) Be polite. Be respectful.

3. Then, it’s your time to explain to the client that you really do want to work with him, and you really do want to help him acquire great talent. But, that the status quo does not allow you to do that.

4. Then go through the market conditions that prevail, the difficulties in finding talent, and go on to spell out everything you will do to assist this client get what he needs. Explain in detail your process and your quality commitments and everything else that makes up your service, and what you need to do to get the results the client wants. This might seem strange, as you are about to sever the relationship, but no! What you are doing is laying the path for the client to be rehabilitated. Either right now in this conversation (unlikely), or sometime in the future when they realise they really do need your help (slightly more likely).

But then…

5. You shift the conversation to what the client needs to do to make the whole partnership work for his/her benefit.

You see what you have done? “I want to help you. This is what I do to help you. But this is what you need to do to help you.”

So you might say, “Mr. Client, you have heard me explain all the things I will do to solve your hiring challenges, but that’s only half the equation. For this to work we need you to… be more responsive, be open to advice, be more flexible, pay better salaries, interview the candidates I recommend”. Or whatever it is the client is not doing.

6. Then say, “So this is how we can really get the result you want. Can you commit to working this way with me?” This is the “It’s my way or the highway, baby!” question. But you are doing it so nicely.

7. If the answer to that question is a flat ‘no’, just be upfront. “Working the way we currently do, Mr. Client, does not get the results you or I want. Of course it is your choice how you work, so when you are ready to come back and work with me in a partnership model, in the way I have described today, I will be delighted to start working with you again”

Bang! That is a fired client!

But the door is still open.

And no one has been rude or been insulted or been humiliated.

Keep polite, keep collaborative, and keep saying you want his business. But on certain terms.

Truthfully, once fired, how often does the client “come back into the fold”?

About 1 time in 5, is my experience.

But that’s cool! The other four you did not want, and the one who comes back is like the prodigal son.

Chastened and grateful.


Follow@greg_savage on twitter.


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