Consulting: Effective Management of Difficult Clients



Is your practice growing with ideal clients? Are any clients difficult to manage?

Start with this premise: You should be focused on the continuous, improvement and performance of your firm.

Keep in mind the traits of good clients. The best clients pay your invoices promptly, act on your recommendations and say thank you. In other words, they’re not high maintenance.

imagerymajestic fistsIf clients are high maintenance, decide whether the clients are worth your effort.

But it’s equally important for you to assess your traits and role in the relationships. Whenever two people have an issue, remember both parties play a part.

It’s not one-sided. You have work to do on this. Of course, this also means you must know how to build trust with clients.

Ask yourself: Are you delivering promised results? Are you a people-pleaser and too-tolerant?

Next, construct a balance sheet of the pros and cons of each of your client relationships. Do they cause inordinate stress? Which clients are the biggest complainers or slow to pay?

The bottom-line: Which of them distract your attention away from the good clients?

If you they think they might become valuable clients, don’t give up.

However, if a client is creating too much of a workload with an insufficient return on your investment of time and expertise, then you must sever the relationship because it isn’t productive.

If a client relationship isn’t worth it, free up your time for maintaining relationships with your current anchor clients and budget time to seek more like them.

Set a bench-marking minimum fee that works for you. Release the clients who don’t meet your expectations.

Educate potentially good clients

Again, a potentially good client pays on time, follows your recommendations and says thank you. They must also either be good at what they do or they must be enthusiastic about your services.

For example, I once had a law-firm client with partners who literally took 90 days to discuss whether to follow marketing recommendations. It wasn’t a mystery why there was correlation between the collective confidences of the attorneys and why none of them won cases during that year.

Take steps to avoid friction. At the beginning of your engagement, set expectations. The clients need to feel comfortable with how you function.

A weekly client meeting is ideal — or more as needed, especially in the beginning – you can easier build long-term client relationships with effective meetings.

Assess the quality of your client meetings and always work from an agenda:

  1. Start with the client’s concerns
  2. Review the agreed-upon objectives
  3. List results of the current project
  4. Forecast what’s probably going to happen next
  5. Other concerns (in case you think of something else after creating the agenda).

Always work off a retainer. Present the retainer in-person to get a report card on how the client feels about you. (It’s one of my firm’s internal 61 rules for effective client service and profitable practice.)

If there’s a mismatch between your processes and their expectations, they’d probably be happier with another consultant. Have an exit strategy – offer to help them find someone else.

Regulate client behavior

Depending on your type of consulting practice, you might have to be creative in regulating the behavior of questionable clients.

For instance if you’re an accountant, set deadlines and inform clients they’ll have to pay a higher retainer if they don’t improve. If a higher fee is not palatable for you or them, offer them fee reductions if they improve their cooperation with you.

Sometimes you have to be really assertive. For instance, should a client seek the opinions from other “experts” about your work, don’t allow it.

Early in my consulting career, a client once asked his other consultant about my work. The person answered with erroneous criticism about me. Being furious, I calmed down and I immediately wrote an analysis of the other person’s qualifications compared to mine.

Next, I called a meeting with the client and presented my analysis. I reiterated that if we were to have a relationship, I would not accept him doing it again. The client evolved into a highly valued and profitable client for 15+ years.

If you’re new to consulting, don’t be surprised if a client treats you like an employee. Remind the client that you’re a consultant with other responsibilities – that you’re not an employee.

Regulate your own behavior

Keep in mind that clients hire you because they need your valuable services. Also, clients are known to periodically suffer from an emotional crisis.

No matter what kind of a consulting practice you have, it’s sometimes necessary to help clients deal emotionally with a business crisis. If you’re a management consultant and you’ve branded yourself well, the clients see you as a trusted confidante and visionary.

You often have to be the adult in the relationship. Yes, there’ll be times when you feel as though you’re the only adult in the room. Be prepared to help clients deal with an emotional crisis.

Even with good clients, you’ll experience episodes in which you get aggravated. If so, stay away a day or so, work on your stress, and write a gratitude list about what you appreciate about such clients.

You’ll feel better and your income will remain stable.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related consulting tips:

Thought Leadership — Why Companies Hire Management Consultants — Companies want knowledge and manage risks. A good idea can be worth $1 million and more. That’s why companies hire thought leaders. It’s also why you see many consultants position themselves as thought leaders and give away free information in how-to articles or studies, which lead to books, seminars and being quoted in the media. Successful consultants know that’s the road to take — to become an in-demand consultant by companies and in the public sector.

Performance Gap Solutions for Consultants in Income and Image — If there’s a disparity between your income goals and your current financial situation, it would appear that you have a performance-gap issue.

Your Dream is to be a Consultant? Here’s How to Develop Your Vision Plan — So you’ve got the entrepreneurial bug. You have nothing against your boss, but it’s time for you to run the show. Here’s how to develop a vision plan.

Consultants / Service Firms: Why Hourly Billing Isn’t Best — One of the first lessons I learned in business-performance consulting was to sell results, not my time. Here’s a case study on client relationships and billing practices.

Consulting is a great gig, if it weren’t for some of the clients.


__________

Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.





Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic at www.freedigitalphotos.net


Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.