Q: I was trained in the “anyone who fogs a mirror is a potential client” school of business development and sales. But many of my clients are simply a drag on my sales efforts: slow to respond, difficult, and often not worth the time I put into closing business with them. Help!

A: Not every client is right for every business, or right for you. Dump the junk and enjoy a portfolio of high-performing, revenue-generating clients who refer you.

Why do we end up with a few clients that just drive us crazy? You know the warning signs a mile away. Clients who ask for advice — sometimes time and time again and never plan to invest.

They call you once with a seemingly good question; call one more time with another question, and again with another. They waste your time. They get annoyed if you don’t return their calls promptly or turn them over to someone else in your office.

No, this isn’t a fable. It happens every day. It is the real world (and a nightmare). I call these PITA — or “pain in the a@#” — clients. Do you have a PITA client — or perhaps more than one?

PITA clients are never happy. PITAs drain your emotions and sap your time, energy and patience. Yet many of us accept this bad business, thinking bad business must be better than no business. But is it?

Dump hidden costs

When we accept bad clients, we pay a hidden cost — the lost opportunity sourcing and servicing phenomenal clients. Collect too many PITA clients and watch your production dwindle. It’s not a compelling scenario.

So, why accept business from a few clients who drive us crazy and drain our resources? Many say because of a looming goal, or because their carrier is launching a new program or offering a one-time only deal. Many of us create unrealistic expectations that we can turn a bad situation into a good one. But the truth is that bad business is bad business. Period.

Dump the junk

Never ask a PITA to refer you. Why? Because PITAs hang out with other PITAs. They belong to the same organizations, play golf together and love telling stories about how they negotiated an unprecedented deal or whipped an advisor into shape. Your best sales decision: Fire the PITA.

Most of the time we see the PITA client warning flags early in the game — before we even begin to work with them. Pay attention. Listen to your instinct. Say “no.” It’s OK to walk away. You then have time to attract exactly the kind of clients you want.

Attract your ideal client

What’s the antidote to a PITA client? Knowing precisely what your Ideal Client looks like. When you describe and recognize your Ideal Client, you’ll be less likely to end up with another PITA.

You want clients who value what you offer, communicate well, are forward thinking, reasonable, have a good sense of humor and give the time and resources to work with you. Plenty of these people exist. You just need to ask for them. You get what you ask for!

Define your ideal client

I was working with a salesman for an insurance company. I said that I’d like to refer some clients to him. But first, I asked: “Who is your Ideal Client?” and “What is a good lead for you?” His answer: “Anyone who has assets to protect.”

I told him that “anyone” was practically the entire universe and it was way too broad for me to think of anyone. After much conversation, he identified two groups that would be an ideal match for his skills and resources: young families with small children about to buy a house, and dry cleaners. (His company underwrote dry cleaners.) That was a lot easier for me to understand than “anyone who has assets to protect.”

Specificity in asking for what we want is counterintuitive. We often think that if we don’t mention everything we do, we will miss out. This is exactly the opposite of what happens. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for someone to refer you.

You’ll find that people will no longer be confused about the best leads for you. You will elicit some remarkable suggestions about people you should meet. Your biggest challenge will be following up on all your great leads. You’ll be talking to exactly the people you want to meet and who want to meet you, and you will begin to see that you can actually have fewer leads and get more business.

So, here’s your action plan: Dump your PITA clients, identify and cultivate your Ideal Clients, and enjoy better overall business returns. Hauling out that broom has never been more rewarding!