All Clients are Equal, some are just more Equal than Others

Marketing Post 4.1

Most of my friends are aware of my cynical side. So reader, be forewarned about this next read. There is one more book I want to share about an envelope salesman plying his trade to make a living. "Swim with the Sharks Without Getting Eaten Alive" by Harvey Maccay. Written with both humor and sincerity that only any experienced salesperson can deliver, this book left me with one serious lesson I have not been able to shake from my brain for 30 years. The reason may be that I read the book later in life after practicing for many years and after finishing that book, I sighed "Now I get it!". My interpretation was that the client world could be thought of in three categories:

The "A" client - this is a client that needs your product or service, wants to hire you, will agree to a competitive fee, and will pay you when invoiced. You need as many of these clients as possible. Identify them, treat them well, honor and respect their business as your own.

The "B" client - this is a client that needs your product or service, wants to hire you, will agree to a competitive fee, and will pay you when invoiced - IF HE HAS THE MONEY. This is a sticky wicket because the "B" client means well and can be a great client. However, often the "B" client is paying you with OPM (Other Peoples Money) preferring to have no real investment of his own dollars, or at least none he will spend with you unless he is backed into a corner. His proposition for work can be a tricky one and one that must be contractually dealt with carefully. Not impossible, but you may be taking on unexpected risk, so be warned. I have also seen many "B" client evolve into "A" clients.

The "C" client - this is a client that needs your product or service, wants to hire you, will agree to a competitive fee, BUT has no intent to pay for your services at all. He is a con-artist, a confidence man and a scoundrel. He will often be in too much of a rush for a contract but will verbally agree to a fee. He may pay your first invoice very quickly or even offer a small retainer - this is the hook and you are the fish. As work progresses to near completion he brings good news of additional work either concurrently or pending. He will continue feeding out line, keeping you on the hook. Finally when pressed for payment, he finds an error, either real or imagined, or a disagreement in concept - "we ALWAYS discussed this issue as a requirement" or such similar language. Then work stops, communication stops and its over. He has successfully reeled in his catch. You get filleted instead of paid. Learn to identify this client and stay as far away from him. This is the shark you want to avoid.

As a new business owner, this may seem over the top, as you likely consider each client as a precious gift. However, with 40 years under my belt I recommend you give the idea time and let it sink in. Since its not a perfect world, be prepared for some blurred lines, fence sitters - clients that are not easily defined. I am very proud of the A & B clients I have worked with over the years and the relationships have been more than satisfactory. But I am also thankful to have spotted the few C clients, some unfortunately after the fact but others just in time. I have taken my hits, but I believe I avoided much grief and saved myself and firm significant dollars and frustration. While my experiences are indeed my own, I recommend this book as a good read to offer a unique perspective on client development.