Marketing Training & Development

When It’s Best to Walk Away from a Prospect

For anyone focused on growing a company, it’s hard to turn down new business. But sometimes it’s necessary.

My first experience with this situation took place nearly two decades ago, and I remember it clearly. After much debate and hand-wringing about submitting a proposal, I turned to a fellow consultant for feedback. I explained my hesitancy based on my gut feeling that a prospective client would be difficult to work with, but business was slow and I really needed the work. I’ve never forgotten the sage advice I got that day from Alan Kay, who told me: “Don’t ever walk away from a prospect in that situation. Run as fast as you can.” I felt incredible relief at the time, and his words of wisdom continue to serve me well.

Recently I asked several colleagues to share their experience dealing with the dilemma of whether or not to turn away a business prospect, and here are their responses.

It’s time to walk away from a prospect when …

“When the prospective client does not understand the value of your services and 99% of your clients do. When you can be certain of this, it will be come crystal-clear that this client will never find the investment in your services worthwhile. You will expend more energy on this client than on what will likely be your longer term clients … It’s never easy but it always seems to open space up to let better clients in.”  Tina I. Hamilton, President, myHRpartner

“The cost of servicing/working with the business exceeds the benefits you receive. Or if your health is compromised because they are just too high maintenance. In 34 years in business I have only resigned two pieces of business. Once it was all said and done, I never looked back with regret.” Michelle Elster, President, Rabin Research Company

“You know what you’d have to charge exceeds what they would get back in a year. If it takes more than a year to achieve ROI, I am not the right coach or the right speaker for you or your team.”  Phil Gerbyshak, Sales and Leadership Speaker

It’s time to walk away from a prospect when …

“They insult you in the initial meeting. Several years ago, I was invited in to a company to meet with the Marketing head to discuss a proposed training initiative. In the meeting, the Marketing head said to me that she was very busy and that she can’t waste her precious time answering my questions. If I can’t just do what they need done, she said, then what good am I to them? She added that she might as well do the training herself.” Terrence Seamon, Leadership Coach/Career Coach

“You are exhausted when you are with them. Every time you attempt to identify the project scope, you discover it is made of jello and keeps morphing. RUN!”  Linda Reed Friedman, Advanta Strategies

Bottom line: Trust your instincts on whether you’ll be engaging in a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s not worth taking on a client you’ll resent – you won’t be at your best, and that’s not helpful to the client and your business.

Special thanks to my colleagues for sharing their thoughts.

[For a related post, check out When It’s Best to Lose a Customer or Client.]



2 replies on “When It’s Best to Walk Away from a Prospect”

Thanks for your comment, Alan. And a great customer service reminder to tell a customer or prospect what you CAN do for them, not just what you can’t.

Sybil, thank you for the compliment. Only today I reminded a client that I was not prepared to be intimidated by a senior person in their public service organization. I offered the name of a colleague who I knew might be interested in the work.

Over the years I found that if you let clients know you have your own standards they become more collaborative.

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