How to Recognize Prospects You Can't Help ⋆ Small Business Marketing Consultant | Small Business Branding

How to Recognize Prospects You Can’t Help

Every bad client that is now wasting your time, failing to produce results or missing payments was once a prospect that you chose to accept.  Did you ignore early warning signs or intuition that foreshadowed the future, rotten outcome?

I met last week with a business owner and did NOT offer to help her – much to the dismay of my colleague who referred me.  My colleague’s need to help and heal others has caused a lot of pain in his life, but it’s still hard for him to walk away from someone he believes needs help.

The prospect was a very talented business owner with some promising revenue streams and over half a million dollars invested already.  She’s had some sales through a storefront and some private clients.  Her location and connections in the community seem good.

Yet, by the end of the meeting, I knew I could not help her, and sadly, I predict a rapid demise.

I learned the hard way not to take on clients I can’t help. Sometimes I don’t have good ideas about how to help them, and other times I’m just not excited about taking on their challenges.

More important, though, is the vibe I get from them.  This prospect showed several signs that read “RUN AWAY.”

1. Didn’t ask for help.

The meeting was initiated by a third party creditor who was willing to invest in the business to protect his own interests.  Unfortunately, the business owner was not so motivated.  Strike one.

2. Makes excuses about why things are the way they are.

To her credit, the business owner was not defensive, but I was concerned about her reliance on others to get things done.  For example, the bookkeeping is outsourced to an ailing relative who is struggling to keep up with the workload.  Business owners must take responsibility for getting things done.  Waiting around for bookkeeping due to this illness might be considerate to someone’s feelings, but it’s devastating her ability to manage.

3. Not tracking success or failure measurements.

Without proper bookkeeping, the owner isn’t quite sure how far behind on payments she is.  She can’t tell which days of the week are yielding the most sales.  In fact, she can’t tell much of anything – good or bad.

4. Wishing rather than planning.

I like to see evidence of an ability to implement marketing, if only tactics.  This will ensure success of any marketing project.  I was happy to hear she had planned to do a direct mailing for the holidays.  I was dismayed to learn it was not completed and ready to mail.  Great idea, but to get it in homes on time, she would have needed to complete it days before we met.  How did she think that was going to get done?

5. Not inquisitive.

Even as these revelations were unfolding in our meeting, I never saw an openness to receiving help.  She never asked questions of us (objective observers and experts in our respective fields) or showed a readiness to take action.

6. Exhibits poor decision-making.

I was overwhelmed by the long series of mistakes made in the business in just 7 months.  While mistakes are terrific learning opportunities, hers spoke more deeply of poor judgment.

7. Unlucky.

There seemed to be a perfect storm of mistakes, economic conditions and health problems.  If you believe in anything metaphysical, you’d have to wonder what’s at the center of that storm.  I felt I’d need magical powers to make much of a difference for her.

Did we feel sorry for her? Yes. She’d tried hard, done so many things right, radiated a passion for her work and made a significant investment.  She’s a good person and she had a clear vision for what she wanted that business to be.

But, that doesn’t necessarily make her a good fit as a client for me. Those 7 danger signals require I walk away.

It’s possible that some of this prospect’s qualities (not tracking, for example) would not have been tragic in isolation, but the whole spectrum was just too much.  Please take a look at your instincts here: things that made me want to conclude the meeting 45 minutes early pulled strongly at the heart-strings of my colleague who so wanted to try and help.

Working with her would be bad for me and for my brand. Even if she HAD asked for help, or eventually does, there are not favorable conditions for success.  That means I wouldn’t enjoy my work.  A good try and poor results are bad for my brand: I don’t need negative case studies or examples of failed attempts in my market.

The best way for me to help this owner is to bless her … and maybe go buy something from her store.  ;-)

There are plenty of qualities and conditions that make prospects a better or worse fit for your business.  You must be very clear on which ones you need to see a prospect displaying before you decide to work with them.

What are warning signs of prospects you can’t help or one who would not be a good fit for you?

Photo by Peyri

  • James Stuart

    My walk away warning sign is when a prospect constantly attempts to pick my brain during a intro session. It’s one thing to ask questions which I strongly encourage, but it’s quite another to try to manipulate me into educating you so you can do it yourself………….. for free! When this occurs I immediately terminate the session.

  • James, when prospects ask questions in the session, I may answer or I may say, “That’s a good example of something covered in my program. I can’t really advise you on that at this point because I don’t know enough about your business.” If they persist, I would think it’s time to ask for a decision on working together.

    Sounds like you have good boundaries!

  • Steve Saley

    Great article…just sent it to my partner who is so empathetic that she sometimes attracts this type of ( potential ) client.

    Feel the Force and respond accordingly, I always say.

    Thanks for this !

    ~ Steve Saley | 954.494.2276

  • Thanks, Steve! :)