Last month I wrote about matching your prospects to your corporate culture, first by attracting the right prospects and secondly by fostering a depth of relationship with them after they become clients. This month I want to examine how one deliberately avoids prospects who could become problem clients, i.e., those who’ll exhibit unrealistic expectations, disrespect your staff, hold you responsible for their omissions, or who’ll become confrontational or argumentative clients.

First, let me echo something that my mentor in the profession shared with me 20 years ago: “If you do enough good, solve enough problems for enough people — and even do so with excellence and efficiency — sooner or later someone is going to find something to complain about.”

Although none of our offices, advisors or staff have ever had a consumer complaint in 24 years, I’ve trained them all to plan on the eventuality of a complaint, and how best to guard against it. Here are some of the warning signs:

  • One spouse publicly demeans or berates another at one of your seminars, in front of others at their table. If they’ve reached 50-something and haven’t yet learned discretion and civility, chances are you or your staff will be the next object of their ire or abuse. Such folks will rarely set an appointment with you when offered one, but on every occasion when they’ve requested one, ours always cancelled before that first meeting. Had they not, I would have done so myself.
  • Prospects who believe it acceptable to help themselves to hours of your time, over multiple meetings, often months apart, while they “think about” the solutions you have recommended to them — without ever coming to a decision. At some point such indecision amounts to disrespect of your time and even rudeness. Simply not pursuing them will usually solve the problem.
  • Prospects who make it clear by their statements and attitude that they consistently blame others for their investment disappointments, who malign their current/former advisors, who have switched advisors annually or who display unrealistic expectations in regard to the performance of their accounts. When someone holds you solely responsible for their outcome, without also giving you the authority to affect it, they’re placing you and your staff in an impossible position.
  • Prospects who merely want a product, and not an advisory/trust relationship

Job One

As my friend Joel Goodhart, a veteran advisor in Pennsylvania, likes to say, “We define ourselves by those whom we say ‘No’ to.” Remember: Job One is to protect your brand, your good name, your staff and the loyal client family you already have, from the risk posed to all by a contentious, unreasonable or irresponsible prospect. 

For more from Thomas K. Brueckner, see:

Opposites don’t attract: How to find your perfect prospect

What does your website say about you?

Do you attract new business or pursue it?