As business development professionals, we spend most of our time trying to attract more clients. After all, that’s what we get paid to do, right ?

Well, maybe not. Or not entirely, at least.

Not every client is created equal. When I started out in sales, I had to learn that lesson the hard way. In fact, it almost got me fired when I got it wrong the first time.

Anyone who’s just starting out thinks that any client is a great client. Budding sales professionals. Scrappy startups. Aspiring consultants who strike out on their own after years in the corporate grind.

In many cases, the pressure to get that first gig is so great that they’ll do virtually anything to land their first paying client.

Understandable, right ?

But what if I told you that even seasoned sales professionals go after the wrong kind of business ? That even those who have ten, twenty or even thirty years of experience in sales and business development end up chasing deals that are not only not worth their time, but will harm their business rather than help it ?

Some clients are fussy. Difficult to work with. They’ll try to squeeze you on scope, materials, or time. Some clients, in short, don’t deserve your business.

But telling them apart can be tricky. After all, even difficult clients tend to present themselves in a favourable light, at least at first.

Over time, I’ve found a few « tried and tested » methods that help me steer clear of those clients who will waste my time, and spend more time working with those who will be worth my time.

Unless you’re making a strategic move, stick to what you know, and what you do best. Click To Tweet

Know what you do (and what you don’t)

The first trick is to figure out what you do, and what you don’t. Sounds simple enough, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find it’s not always that clear-cut. Especially if you’re selling services, there’s often no clear delineation of what you offer, versus what you could offer. And a real temptation to « do more » (which can, sometimes, be a really, really good idea).

It’s often tempting to accept a piece of business thinking « we don’t really do that, but I’m sure we could do it ». If you’re selling training, you could do coaching as well. Or consulting. Or maybe even some kind of audit.

The problem is : none of this is playing to your core strengths.

Which means you’ll have to invest substantially more resources than you would otherwise. And there’s a real possibility of substantial scope creep.

Take it from me : unless you’re making a strategic move, stick to what you know, and what you do best.

Develop a keen eye for telltale signs of trouble

In retrospect, every bad client I’ve ever worked with gave off plenty of warning signs – I just didn’t see them. Or, probably more accurately, I didn’t want to see them.

Bad clients tend to be the ones who – in the early stages of the sales process – don’t get back to you, leave things hanging and fire endless new requests at you. They’re the ones who expect things to be turned around overnight, after sending an email at 6.00 PM. The ones who will behave as if they’re the only client in the world.

If they’re a pain to work with before you close the deal, imagine what they’ll be like after you’ve successfully won the business.

Qualify early, qualify hard

Here’s a little secret : the fastest, surest, easiest way to make your win rates go up ? Chase fewer deals to begin with.

If you’re out there chasing every potential lead, you’ll only end up diluting your efforts, spending a lot of time with prospects who will never buy from you (and if they do, it may not even be worth your time).

The secret to higher win rates and better clients is to qualfy hard, and qualify early in the sales process.

Unfortunately, most sales professionals don’t do enough of that. Why not ? Not enough leads entering their pipeline to start with – meaning they’re desperately chasing every deal out there just to make the quarter.

Find your best clients, and clone them

Think about your best clients. What do they have in common ? What industries are they in ? What products or services to they sell ? What size are they ? Where are they located ? What did you do for them ? Who are they ?

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions, you can start building an ideal client profile. Meaning you can now choose who you go after, and get more dream clients into your pipeline.

Don’t be afraid to repel the wrong clients, so you can spend more time working with the right ones. Click To Tweet

Stick to scope, and don’t give in

Despite your best efforts to repel the wrong clients, you’ll find that you’ll still get stuck with a nightmare client from time to time. Don’t fret, it happens to the best of us.

Nightmare clients tend to be really good at one thing : getting you to do more work for the same amount (or less) of money. But whatever you do, don’t give in. If you do, it’ll lead to a destructive downwards spiral of scope creep that you’ll never be able to recover from.

Sales is all about getting new business – but not all new business is created equal. I’ve written on the Pareto Principle before : 80% of your profits, results, joy, energy, fun and satisfaction will come from 20% of your clients.

Don’t be afraid to repel the wrong clients, so you can spend more time working with the right ones.