As 2016 begins, there are a variety of things that accounting and technology firms struggle with… one of them is how to say “no” to a prospect – and it’s even harder if it was a referral from a strong relationship source.

I know you’ve been there… in a prospect meeting and your gut reaction screams “this is not be a company / person that you wish to ever work with!” But what happens is normal, you entertain them, even sometimes go through the proposal process, and what’s worse, sometimes we even say “yes, we’d love to work with you.” You knew it from the gut, but you just can’t turn down what seems to be good business… even though the initial reaction was probably right!

I have been in this situation many times, so you’d think I would know better, but recently, my collaborative partner, Jodie Binning and I were presented an opportunity to work with a company to build marketing strategy and implementation efforts. After our initial meeting we thought, “Wow, this person has their $h!t together and will be a fun client to help grow.” (Yes, the prospect impressed us that much!) 🙂

Unbeknownst to us, the email that was “accepting our proposal” (yes, we submitted a proposal and got confirmation via email that the company wanted us) was not really what it seemed. As we planned our kickoff meeting, we prepared the agenda and sent our contractual agreement – outlining our proposed solutions to the initiatives. To say the least, this caused quite the uproar.

The prospect had decided (without any communication to us) in the weeks that passed that his budget was now reduced to $5,000 (this was about $10,000 less than our proposal estimate). AND, if that wasn’t enough, the prospect was now asking for us to provide validation, research and proof that the marketing programs we were going to implement (at no charge), prior to signing any agreement were going to work. Really????? Does anyone perform work before they are paid or even gain a signed commitment???

As a small business owner, I totally understand how budget can control a project; after all many of my clients work with me on a set budget. However, when the scope and deliverables are clearly defined during meetings and the proposal process (remember he accepted that via email – or at least we thought so), it became clear to me that this individual was simply trying to engage our 30+ years of marketing experience, get some free services and buy our other services at a cheap rate.

To say the least, we reconsidered the project, and when it was all said and done the following questions helped us to question if we attract the right clients to our firm:

  1. Does the individual(s) value the work / results you can bring to their business? (without proof, other than client testimonials, which we happily provide)
  2. Is this individual someone that will make a positive relationship for you / refer others to you?
  3. What will we gain from a relationship with this individual?
  4. Will a recommendation from this individual be valuable in gaining other clients in the same industry? Why / Why not?
  5. And, probably the most important: If we are having differences before signing an agreement, will the relationship grow, prosper and help us or be a pain in our a$#?

It was a difficult situation to say the least (as the prospect was a referral), but we decided that working with this individual was not in our best interest. This situation helped us solidify that just because we were engaged to discuss marketing initiatives does not mean that we loosen our core purpose and values to work with someone.

What advice do you have to offer when dealing with a prospect who is asking for the moon? Was there something we could have done differently?