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How You Pick Good Clients to Begin With


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With think a lot about how to build strong client relationships, but often don’t spend much time focusing on how to make sure we are getting the right clients in the first place. What is a good client? This ideal client varies for different people, but I think there are some important characteristics that are nearly universal. Here are 9 of them.

Good clients:

Are capable, motivated, and ambitious. Whether they are a manager or a CEO, they want to improve their business, shake things up, and take them to the next level. Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, “A prince who is not himself wise can never be well advised.”

Are confident. They are comfortable in their own skin and secure in their abilities. They are not threatened by having smart advisors around them. On the contrary, they welcome working with other talented people.

Have the confidence of their leadership. If their own company doesn’t think they are competent, your work may end up in the trash after a perfunctory review.

Are in a position to do something in their organizations. If your client can’t make decisions and has no authority to act, you’ll be endlessly frustrated.

Have a bias for action but also a long-term orientation. They want to get things done—now—but realize they must apply steady pressure to their organizations and to the problems they are facing in order to get results that endure.

Find value in long-term relationships. Usually you know this because they have a history of building trusted relationships with external service providers and also with their key constituencies internally.

Are loyal and willing to give others credit. If you deliver for them consistently and do a good job, they want to tell others about you and recommend you to their colleagues and friends. They aren’t afraid to introduce you to their boss and to other executives in their company.

Treat you with respect from the get-go. If a top client executive gets on the phone and immediately is respectful of me and of my experiences, I almost always find that they remain that way as the relationship develops. But clients who treat me like a vendor in the first conversation often keep that attitude throughout the engagement.

Are a good strategic fit for your offering and your firm. Everyone’s criteria for this will be a bit different–a company that is too small for one provider may be too large for another! What is it for you? What types of clients are a good fit for your services and business model? 

Correspondingly, when these qualities are lacking, it’s bad news.

Avoid clients who are insecure, are poor performers, lack authority, are all talk but no action, don’t value relationships, and only begrudgingly give others credit!

How do you act on this? Have your radar on high alert when you first meet a potential client. Observe carefully how they behave throughout the business development process. Find out about their past history. Listen and watch. Try and let the ones you don’t want gradually slip away without you having to invest much; and double-down on the clients you think fulfill most or all of the criteria I’ve listed.

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