One mistake weak salespeople make is pursuing clients that are easy to win but difficult to service after the deal is closed. These easy-to-win clients desperately need a salesperson to agree to take their business because better salespeople refuse it. Once an unsuspecting salesperson wins these undesirable clients, the client’s constraints become the salesperson’s company’s problems.
No one wins when a client has a problem that prevents the sales organization from being able to execute their solution. The salesperson loses because their company can’t do the work. The salesperson’s company loses because they can’t bill the client for work they can’t do. Even the client loses, mostly because any company that agrees to take their business will fail them. The smart salespeople who recognize they won’t be able to succeed run away so fast the client might as well be a house fire.
I learned this lesson early in my sales career from clients who desperately needed what I sold because other companies had "failed them.” After taking their business, I learned that they paid too little, had a toxic culture, or had unrealistic expectations. The more unrealistic their needs, the more they told me how bad my competitors were, and, to entice me, they stated that my company and I would do a much better job for them.
I’d like to say that I learned this before winning two of these nightmare clients, but the truth is that they sold me. After signing contracts with two of these companies, I learned what I needed to know: You can’t succeed or help when the problem is the client. I learned to recognize the signs of undesirable clients. The biggest tell was a contact complaining about how bad their current provider was, confessing their current supplier’s poor performance. To a novice, hearing how bad the incumbent is doing is exciting because it means you are going to win the business. If you are susceptible to this client ploy, you need to ask yourself why none of your competitors have been able to help the prospective client succeed, even though they are serving other companies.
One of the reasons salespeople take bad clients is because they have been taught and trained to look for a problem and sell the solution. But when the problem is something the client is doing, your solution will fail every time.
Failed Clients and Angry Sales Reps
When a salesperson takes a client their company cannot help, the salesperson starts to complain about the inability of their operations team to produce the results the client needs. Because the salesperson needs the client, they get angry that their client isn’t being taken care of.
The operations team is often the target of their anger, but the salespeople who take these clients also are unhappy with their leadership, blaming them for not doing something to improve the results. The more desperate the salesperson is, the more they can ignore the constraints they have imposed on their own company and the people who are supposed to handle the client’s business. The teams that execute for the clients are not so lucky to be able to ignore the constraints.
Disqualification In Discovery
The more your potential customer needs your help, the more you can be certain there is something you are missing. If you want to succeed in sales, you should disqualify prospective clients that your team will fail. It took me some time to learn how to discover that the root cause of problems for many clients is something they are doing. Eventually, I started asking questions that allowed me to understand that the client didn’t want to change what they were doing, so they blamed their poor results on their supplier.
Once you identify the root cause of a client’s failure, you can do one of two things. First, you can disqualify the client, saving both of you a lot of time and emotional energy. The second option requires more work. If you are consultative enough, you can tell the client what they need to change for you to be able to help them. When you ask for the client to change and they refuse, you refuse to take their business.
If the client paid below-market rates, I walked. If they had undesirable shifts, I walked. If they had a toxic culture, I walked. Then, at some point, I didn’t walk and instead showed them the data about what they would need to do for anyone to be able to help them. Some took my advice, and others didn’t. This helped me walk away from what would have been a nightmare client.
A Better Strategy for Success in Sales
If you want serious success in B2B sales, you want to pursue clients that will be difficult to win and easy to serve. If you’re worried about the time and effort it takes to win the most desirable clients, measure the time you lose when you take clients that you are unable to help, because they won’t change.
You can improve your results by winning hard-to-win clients that are easy to take care of instead of taking deals with easy-to-win clients that your team will fail. You want to give the teams that execute the deals you sign the best clients possible. When your teams win, you win, your client wins, and your company wins.
You should want your competition to get tied down serving these easy-to-win, difficult-to-execute for clients. While your competition struggles, you are taking care of better clients and increasing your bank balance.
The Immutable Constraints in Business and Pursuing Undesirable Clients
You have limited time, limited energy, and limited money. You should use your time to pursue the clients that are most desirable. You should use your available energy on opportunities that provide all the stakeholders with a good deal—that includes you, your client, your company, and the team that will execute for the client. Your company has limited money and they need to invest that money to take care of the clients that are right for the company.