GetReferralsWhen you cast a wide net, you end up catching PITAs.

You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. That’s a well-worn saying. My variation: You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your clients.

Ideal Clients rock! They value what we offer, communicate well, are forward thinking and reasonable, have a good sense of humor, and will give the time, money, and resources to make our business projects successful. When we work with our Ideal Clients, our sales time collapses, productivity soars, deals are larger, and they help us get referrals to others like themselves.

And then there’s the opposite—the PITA client.

Bad Customers, Bad for Business

Working with PITA clients isn’t just an unpleasant experience; it’s an opportunity cost. PITA clients push you to do more for less. Once you say  yes, you’ve locked yourself into a downward spiral. It’s like one of those rides at Disneyland where you go round and round until you think you will either lose what’s in your stomach or your head will spin off—and you really don’t care which happens first.

But wait, there’s more:

  • You’ll be nickel-and-dimed and then expected to deliver additional services—quickly and at no charge.
  • They’ll challenge your expertise and question you on every move.
  • Your resources (and energy) will be drained.
  • Your team will consider mutiny, but be too exhausted, frustrated, and demoralized to follow through with it.
  • Your profit margins will be squeezed.
  • PITAs hang out with other PITAs, so their referrals will be to other demanding, stingy people.

Worst of all, PITA clients waste time, energy, and creativity that would be better spent serving your Ideal Clients—those you enjoy working with and who give you what you need to help them grow their businesses.

So why are we still taking on PITAs, and what can we do to stop the madness?

A PITA Horror Story

A colleague recently told me about her husband, Luke, who used to be an engineer for an IT-services firm that supports hundreds of small businesses. He hated the job so much that he quit last year and took a job making a quarter of his previous salary.

His biggest gripe about his previous employment? Being forced to work with bad customers.

Granted, most people are at their worst when technology breaks down and keeps them from working, but some customers were much worse than others. As Luke’s wife told me, “It was not uncommon for people to literally scream and cuss at James because their Internet providers’ service was down, and they didn’t understand enough about technology to know this wasn’t the IT guy’s fault. Luke would try to explain why he had no way to resolve the issue, but they would say he was just trying to ‘pass the buck.’”

I would have told this company to take the job and shove it within a few months. Luke stuck it out for six years.

Part of the problem was with the sales team, who had the mentality that any business was good business—even clients with tiny budgets and huge demands. But the sales reps at this firm didn’t deal with the clients after signing them on. They got their commission checks and the terrible clients became an engineer’s problem.

“This is why the engineers at this company hate the sales team … and hate their jobs,” Luke told his wife. “When you have to deal with an asshole terrorizing you all day, you’re going to be cranky and less productive. And that impacts other, good customers.”

Luke was a managing engineer for this company, and he suggested at a leadership meeting that the company give each team leader the ability to fire one client per year. There were five or six team leaders, each with about 15 or 20 engineers working under them, so this wouldn’t have amounted to much loss.  However, it might have saved the company from dumping money into bad business, and from hemorrhaging talented employees. Still, Luke’s company shot down the idea.

Can’t Fire Bad Clients? Ward Them Off Instead

Unfortunately, in most companies, the power to fire clients is reserved for the top brass. Likewise, in most sales organizations, reps don’t get to say no to business. But with the right prospecting strategy, sales leaders can help their teams get only Ideal Clients into the sales pipeline.

Like attracts like. PITAs hang out with other PITAs. But the fantastic clients you love to serve probably know other people just like themselves. Simply put: When we get referrals from an Ideal Client, we get introduced to Ideal Clients.

Want to weed out the clients who are draining resources and energy? Here’s where to start:

1. Create a crisp profile of your Ideal Client. This way, you recognize perfect opportunities when they arise and can help your Referral Sources make great connections for you. Consider the ideal industries, job titles, and locations of the prospects you most want to meet. Also stress the ideal personality traits, and the typical situation or need your company addresses.

2. Ensure everyone in your organization focuses on attracting only Ideal Clients. If you’re a sales leader, empower your team to recognize PITA prospects and to get rid of them before they ever get into the pipeline. No questions asked.

3. Ask your current Ideal Clients for referrals. When you implement a rigorous referral program, you continue to attract only Ideal Clients to your company.

With referral selling, your sales processes collapses, you earn trust and credibility immediately, your competition disappears, and you convert prospects into clients well more than 50 percent of the time. No other sales or marketing strategy comes close to these results.

You have a choice about the kind of clients you attract. Make the right one!

(Note: This blog post originally appeared on LinkedIn Publisher.)

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