All consultants have been there, dealing with a super intimidating client. Whether it is a whale of an account that you are stressing to keep happy or a micro-managing client that’s driving you bananas, there’s usually at least one in your book of business.
I have found that clients fall into three main buckets and you have to deal with each bucket a little differently in order to save your sanity, your consultancy, and your self-respect.
Here’s how I deal.
This client tends to be the most difficult; the client that likes to threaten you. You know the type, “If performance doesn’t increase, I’m going to have to find someone else”, type client. This client relationship is particularly stressful in that the threats, whether empty or not, can send us into a spiral of anxiety and fear of lost business.
There’s nothing worse than an unhappy client, let alone one that is ready to leave.
How to Deal
The biggest thing in this scenario is to take a step back and breathe. This client needs to be heard, and needs to know that you are actively working to fix whatever it is they are unhappy with. The worst thing you can do in this situation is ignore the threat. The bully client is quick to jump to conclusions and you must Manage with Cold, Hard Facts and document everything.
These clients are the most damaging because they get us all worked up over losing business that we can’t clear our heads enough to do our job. Often this causes us to make heavy handed decisions that lead to additional damage down the road. Our main goal here is to stay calm and focused. Find your Zen and do not let the threats get to you. Beyond that, let the chips fall where they may…there is plenty of business out there!
Once you’ve found perspective and focus, communicate to the client that they are heard and that you are working diligently to solve the issue(s). Make sure to gently set realistic expectations on turnaround time of performance and then get to work on a plan. Once you have a plan, communicate that plan, then communicate as the plan is implemented as well as how performance changes and how your action plan changes in response.
These clients are just plain all over the place. They’re often dealing with chaos and lack of resources internal to their organization that bleed into your consulting relationship. This often means lack of direction, rapid changes in goals, KPI’s, and direction, as well as quick decisions made with little data.
How to Deal
This client needs a hug. They need to feel supported, like they can count on you to help take a bit of the load off. That means two major tasks for you:
- Be patient
- Be organized
Dealing with a client contact that is being pulled in a multitude of directions means often answering the same questions repeatedly, lots of gentle reminders and check-ins, and clear communication at all times. I prefer to communicate in email as often as I can with this kind of client so they always have a point of reference. Prepare yourself to deal with longer time lines on implementations and set up a system that allows you to remain present in the conversation while accommodating these longer timelines.
Know –it-all Client
You might know this client as the micro-manager, or the client that “knows just enough to be dangerous”. This client has a clear interest in what you do, why you do it, and how you do it. They may just find your art fascinating or they may be trying to figure out how the system works so they can help. Don’t get me wrong, it is true that in some cases they’re trying to figure out how they can do this themselves and save some cash by cutting you out of the equation or they just have a hard time letting someone else spend their money. But more often than not, they’re just curious.
How to Deal
This client needs to feel like they’re involved.
I’ve found the easiest way to deal with this kind of client is to work on building your relationship with them, to share, be honest and friendly, and to over communicate. It really is just that simple. You will need to be patient and willing to train and educate this client. Above all else, do not get into a power struggle with this client, this will only agitate the situation. Instead, set boundaries and let them help where appropriate.
No matter what kind of difficult client you’re dealing with, it is important to try and sniff out these quirks in the initial sales and discovery phase of your engagement and Identify Succubus Clients ahead of time. This way you can bake in additional costs to cover the time you’ll need to appropriately deal with these clients.
Sometimes these difficulties will not be easy to spot, so it’s super important to have a thorough investigative conversation or several prior to engaging in a contract with any client. Really focus on learning about their need, their previous challenges, etc.
How do you deal with difficult clients? Share your tips in the comments!