Choosing Clients the Old-Fashioned Way: Interview Them!

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Scan the Web and you’ll find countless articles providing tips for fool-proof employee interviews, guaranteed to separate the wheat from the chaff, the gold nuggets from the pail of sand.   Although fine for companies and organizations looking to bring on new staff (or new vendors), these articles fail to serve trainers and training companies, struggling (like employers) to decide with whom we want to work.   That’s right; vendors have some say in the matter!   Yes, the “customer is king” – but not every client who knocks on a trainer’s door should get a free pass to the throne room.  The key is interviewing our potential clients before we sign that contract and lock in our services. But what is the purpose of an interview, really?   If we’re talking about hiring officials, the logical answer would be “To fill a position” — a conclusion that over-simplifies things quite a bit.  The hidden reason employers interview people is that they’re searching for clues about what kind of behavior that person will exhibit, day in and day out, once they walk through the front doors of their organization.   In other words, through the interview, hiring officials are seeking to predict what kind of employee you’ll be.  We trainers need to do the exactly same thing, interviewing our prospects and clarifying for ourselves “What kind of clients do I want to work for, and which ones should I most certainly avoid?” Speaking for myself, I’ve certainly enjoyed working with my teambuilding clients over the years.  By and large they’ve been enthusiastic, straightforward and pleasant; and best of all, they’ve tended to pay me on time.  But oh yes, there have been those occasions when I’ve wondered why I ever took this client job on.  Was it really worth the hassle?  To save you some of the frustrations I’ve experienced during my 18 years in the industry, please find below my list of difficult clients to be on the look out for: 1) The Unreachable Client You know the type.   You call, you email, nada.  No response.  With the date of the client’s event racing towards you at light speed, you just can’t seem to get your contact person on the phone to finalize logistics – putting you in a real bind regarding travel, workshop materials and overall preparation. 2) The Overly-Demanding Client Clients in this category fall into four sub-classes, namely:
  • Mr. Ambiguous:   After submitting the agenda for your seminar, the client rejects your plan without expressing sufficient criticism or suggestions, leaving you to guess what they dislike.   (“I don’t know what’s wrong. I just don’t like it.”)
  • Ms. “I Want More But Won’t Pay More”:   Upon delivering your agenda, the client asks for a variety of extra features (ie. T-shirts, refreshments, a videographer) that were not in the original agreement, refusing to pay for the additional services rendered.  (“You’re already making plenty on our program…it’s the least you can do.”)
  • Mr. Unreasonable:   After finalizing your workshop plan, the client makes a series of last-second requests — usually with an impossibly-narrow delivery time.   (“Please submit three other versions of this agenda.  Oh, and can you customize the materials to our group?  We’d like to see a draft for our 9am meeting tomorrow morning, thank you!”)
  • Ms. Waffler:  With only days (or hours) remaining before your training, the client is still going back and force on the details, forcing you to make repeated, last-second changes. (“We still haven’t decided if we want to do the indoor or outdoor program.  Perhaps you could prepare both versions in case we change our minds that morning.”)
3) The Disrespectful Client “It’s not like what you do is rocket science!” You’ve all probably heard something like this before. Even though they’ve hired (and paid) you to do something they are unable to do by themselves, there are still clients who feel they know better than us, or who don’t take our job seriously.  A disrespectful client is bossy to the extreme, insisting they know what’s best for their group while neglecting to ask your opinion on key matters.   Even worse, they might communicate with you disrespectfully, treating you as a servant or second-class-citizen, rather than as the professional coach and trainer that you are. 4) The Disappearing Client This one is plain and simple: the client refuses to pay you, whether for the deposit, an extra feature, the remaining balance or the whole thing. Even worse, they give no explanation for this delay or refusal. It’s one thing if the client explains that they can’t pay you yet because of some unfortunate turn of events and reassures you that you will get your money in a set period of time. It’s quite another if you deliver the training successfully and the client disappears from the face of the earth.   The Disappearing Client strings you along, postponing payment, using insufficient excuses, and generally avoiding communication — hoping that you’ll get tired of waiting and just give up. —————————————- So, how do you avoid these problem clients?   By interviewing them beforehand! Here are 10 of the most common, employer-to-employee interview questions, revised to suit the trainer’s purpose:
  1. What is your team’s greatest strength?   What is your own greatest strength?
  2. What is your team’s greatest weakness?  What is your own greatest weakness?
  3. How do your staff members handle stress and pressure?   How do you, personally, handle stress and pressure?
  4. How will you evaluate the success of this training?
  5. Why do you want to work with us?
  6. Why should we take you on?
  7. What are your goals for this training?     What would you like your team to be able to do once the training is over?
  8. What’s the biggest misperception people have of you and your team?
  9. How do you and your group unplug?
  10. Have you done this kind of training before? If so, why are you switching to us?
And, if you’re really brave, you might also ask: “Why wouldn’t I take you on as a client?”      You’ll get the most honest answers from this one—because it’s not a question people anticipate being asked. As you conduct your client interview, make sure you pay attention to both form and content.    Does the client answer your questions directly or hesitantly?   Do they seem to enjoy the process or do they get defensive?   Are they evasive?   Negative?   Do they throw their employees (or bosses!) under the bus?  Very often, the way people respond can be a big clue to the type of behaviors they’ll exhibit during the course of the project. Finally, remember that you DO have the choice regarding with whom you work.   If your client isn’t going to work out, give them the pink slip and show them the door.   It’s just smart business. With thanks to Maria Malidaki)
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