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“How do I get sales to quit making bad deals?”

Casey asked this question today:

“I find that taking on these clients makes it more stressful for everyone in the long run, but sales will take them on anyway…for the sale. I’d like to think to curate our clientele intentionally would weed out the bad seeds, but what about the business? How do I convince sales to say no?”
(P.S. you can also ask questions just by emailing me at

Hi Kacey, thanks for asking!
Let me deconstruct this a bit…

How can a company identify which are their best clients, where “best” means:
a. Has a reasonable budget
b. Is willing to recognize you as the expert
c. Understands they must participate in the process
d. Has a good attitude
e. Treats agency staff well
f. Responds in a timely way to requests and questions
Those are off the top of my head.  You can probably think of a few more items.  I like to take these items and create a “Client Qualification Checklist” *(CQC).  If I meet a lead that I suspect will score poorly on my checklist, I don’t do business with them.

You probably guess that your CQC won’t screen out all the bad apples, but it goes a long way to keeping you out of trouble.

So, your gut feeling about curating our clientele is right no.  A CQC helps you do that in a clearheaded way.

How do I convince sales to say no?
If the folks selling the work aren’t the ones doing the work, there can be a disconnect.  Salespeople are usually concerned with generating leads, creating proposals, closing the deal and maybe collecting a deposit.  They might not be aware of what makes a good or bad client.  In fact, without using a CQC tool (or similar tool), it could take months before anyone realizes the client was a stinker.

In this case, management has to buy into the idea that “We only take on good clients” and then clearly communicate what a “good” client acts like.

What about the business?  How do we survive?
“Wait, Marcus, if we do that we’ll go out of business!”
Hold on.  First, this is a process.  You don’t have to fire all your bad clients tomorrow.
Second, if you want a steady stream of clients, you’ve got to niche down.

I’m convinced there’s no other way.  It looks like your company isn’t doing that on the website, but maybe you do it some other way.

Your website is beautiful, but is holding up a cardboard sign along the internet highway that says “Will work for food.”

This may be hard to hear, but since you don’t talk about what audience you serve, or what problem you solve, it looks like every other web company in the world.

This is probably where you should start your business transformation.

When you niche down, your customers will trust you more, be happy to pay you more, and treat you like an expert.

If management is nervous about that, maybe you can at least collaborate to create a CQC that sales can use to weed out bad clients.
If that’s too big a step, start by having an honest conversation with sales about which clients are good, and which are bad.

How the best agencies do it
The best agencies take a two-step approach:
1. Avoid the bad clients in the first place.  You can’t change jerks, so just avoid them.
2. Train new clients how to be “great clients” through intentional coaching and feedback.

About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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