The Clients You Deserve

This blog is for you, James N. I’ve been thinking about you since we emailed back and forth last week, and I have some additional thoughts to share.


We have all lost clients.

I have lost clients.

It hurts.

In James’ case, his client made a mistake. He confused cost with worth and traded for it. I told James the truth, which he had already told himself: once they’re gone they’re gone, and even though it hurts right now, it’s actually for the best.

Since then, I’ve been thinking and I have come up with a question.

Who gets your best work?

If your customers who make you suffer the most get your best work – your overbearing-in-the-way-but-thinks-that-he-is-helping manager, the never-happy client, or the tyrant – then you have invested into a system that rewards (and possibly attracts) the very people who drive you crazy.

It’s no mystery why you get clients like this; they get your best work!

Conversely, when you use a process that makes it clear that your best work goes to those people who are clear, respectful, open, participating and patient, then you become a specialist in having customers just like this.

My partner Tom has a process that he developed to onboard a client that has an extra step.

A pause.

After a couple of calls between Tom and our prospective clients to learn about each other, when our prospective client says, “I want to hire you,” instead of sending a contract, Tom will send a Statement of Work (SOW).

The SOW accomplishes two things:

First, it clarifies what the client is asking for and what we are hearing. “You want to hire us to do exactly this, right? For the following reasons, right? And should we do this work together, you expect these outcomes to happen, right?”

Secondly, it demonstrates that Tom cares. Tom cares more about making sure you are understood and that he’s doing the right thing for you than he does about getting paid.

Each of us can figure out how to dig even deeper for those clients who are gracious and kind and human. This means you won’t take advantage of their patience or forgiveness or give them work that is less than your best.

Instead, you treat the good customers with even more effort and care and empathy than you ever would have given the tyrants.

And word will spread. It always does. You can’t stop it.

There is an extra benefit that just occurred to me. Your best clients will also protect you.

I got a call once from one of our best clients. He is a wonderful guy, and he manages billions (with a b) of assets.

“Hey Dennis, I heard that you have been talking to TEAM about working with you?”

“Yes, we have had a couple of calls.”

“Don’t let them hire you,” he said, “They don’t deserve you.”

I called, and he and I talked about it. He told me that they’d never do the work, that they’d never take responsibility for their own actions and that in the end, I’d be sorry.

He may have been right. I don’t know. I never let them hire us.


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