The problem is that business owners are fundamentally scared to say no. Moreover, they have a deep seated, pathological fear of firing a client, but if you have a client that is not working and is never going to work then please, get rid. Passing them on to someone else is the best decision you can make.
Don’t invite a Vampire into your house.
The first rule about vampires is they have to be invited in to your home.
Typically, when you start a new business, you pretty much take any client available- anyone with a pulse and a chequebook. But, once you have passed the first six months or so of trading you should start to look for red flags – they will appear as early as the prospecting meeting.
We know we aren’t the cheapest accountant out there; we offer a fixed price monthly fee and wrap all of our services into a bespoke package we think will suit a client. If the prospect is fixated on price, wants to get it five pounds cheaper or continues to question why we charge for this or that or says ‘my old accountant didn’t do that’, then these are red flags. If it doesn’t feel right on day one, chances are it won’t get any better. Avoid this type of client by not engaging with them in the first place.
Before you can get rid of a Vampire, first you have to identify them.
Vampires – and Vampire Clients- are experts at hiding in plain sight. They can live among us mortal humans quite easily and apart from a few unsavoury proclivities around meal times, we could all get on very well. But before you can do something about a Vampire client, first you have to find them.
I know a lot of businesses have a grading system for clients. They segment their customer base and then rank it against their ideal client criteria. Using A’s, B’s, C’s and D’s or ones, twos, threes, etc, the objective is to see how many clients fit into your ideal client base and importantly which don’t.
Grading criteria could include customers paying the right price for your service, paying on time or buying more than one service. As well as quantifiable rules you can also add in some qualitative ones; do they get on with the team? Are they nice human beings? Do they return your calls promptly if you have a question?
Hopefully the vast majority are going to be in your top categories. But when you identify clients that aren’t, don’t fire them straight away, first try and understand what the issue is and see if you can fix it. Like in the movies, they may not even know they are Vampires yet!
Many clients don’t know they are doing anything wrong, especially if you haven’t told them. We found that a lot of the reasons our clients weren’t grade ‘A’ was in fact largely our fault. Ask yourself, were you clear at the start about your fees, what you charge for and ways of working? Are you doing lots of work that you aren’t getting paid for, or because you are so focused on client astonishment, are you bending over backwards to serve a client which is causing the friction.
Whatever the issue you’ve got three options; either re-write the rules of the game, fix the issue or fire the client – stakes are optional.
Vampires eat you from the inside out.
A Vampire Client can become cancerous. While they are sucking the time and profit out of your business, think of the damage they can do to your team. A Vampire Client can suck the energy out of a team member meaning they fall over, they go off sick and so your service levels to other clients drops and you start to lose those clients too. The situation becomes really imbalanced and if good clients leave you are even more at the mercy of your Vampire friends.
Have your team around you.
One of the most powerful things we did when grading our clients was to involve the whole team. We wanted them all on-board so it was a collaborative decision. It demonstrated to me that clients can act differently with different members of the team. Where I might get some great emails from clients or none at all because I generally speak to them on the phone, members of the team identified some awful correspondence they had received. And if I am not in the office, certain clients were known to just bring the mood down and suck the life out of the team. It’s a massive thing, but you need to back your team, let the clients go and destroy someone else’s work force.
Killing off the Vampires is like a stake through the heart
Once you identify your Vampire Clients, one of the hardest things to do is kill them off. Van Helsing doesn’t ride into town to do the dirty work, as the business owner the job is yours. When the time comes, the shift in mindset you need is to stop thinking about this as a loss of revenue – the money, like the person they were before they became a vampire, is gone – instead think about the time you have saved, the energy you can put back into your other clients.
When it is time to let them go, firstly, be open, honest and transparent. Ideally, you should do it in person and explain that the relationship isn’t working – for either party- and that other firms would be better placed to offer what they need. You might find they are thinking the same thing and it can be perfectly straightforward and honest.
Remember no one has the right to buy from you. This is your business, your rules. And so, for any reason you want, you can say it’s not working. You can’t leave customers in the lurch, but you can terminate relationships, move on and let them be a Vampire to someone else.
The benefits of avoiding Vampire Clients are enormous; you are free of negative energy and the time they take up, which allows you to focus more on clients that love what you do. It takes courage and it takes belief in your business, but you’re not losing the revenue, because you never had it in the first place. What you are losing or rather saving is the time and hassle that would come with this client.
Whether it’s your smallest or biggest client all a lot of business owners are going to see is the lost revenue as a result of firing them but if you put the new-found time and energy back into delighting clients the referrals can easily fill that void. We had to do it once but we filled the gap in six weeks.
Whether you diagnose that you have one or a colony of Vampire Clients, the key is to act fast to either turn them around or turn them out. This starts with understanding what makes a good client for your business and what doesn’t. Once you have categorised your clients you can identify the ones that are more Vampirish and deal with them in a way that makes them good ones – think Robert Pattinson’s character in Twilight. Once you understand all of this, you can take this knowledge, this power into every prospect meeting and once you see potential Vampire Client bare their fangs close the door and don’t invite them in.