Choosing the wrong clients will destroy your business

By Stuart_Selbst
In MSP Coaching
May 2, 2014

Stuart Selbst / Stuart Selbst

difficult client aheadEarlier this week I wrote a blog about how your business is failing and you don’t even know it. I want to follow that up with a lesson on interviewing clients. You read that correctly, when you are meeting with a prospect you are interviewing them every bit as much as they are interviewing you. Like everything I write this one has 2 different stories behind it.  The first is about my personal experience as an MSP and the second is about one of my partners. I’ll start with the latter.

I have this great partner who, like most, works really hard for all of his clients. Unfortunately, he has this one client who is driving him up a wall. The client just won’t invest in the technology my client recommends. His server has gone down 9 times over the last couple of months and he refused to invest in a backup or a business continuity solution. Fortunately, my partner was finally able to convince this customer to get a new server. Unfortunately, he went to his local computer store and bought the cheapest server he could buy, without consulting my partner first. To compound the situation, he also did not consult with my partner on the specific needs of his line of business app. And, if it can get worse yet, he asked the “guy” at the computer store if he knew a kid who could set up the server for him. Come on, say it with me, this is the WRONG type of customer for my partner. So, he had to give his customer three choices. Choice #1, he could return the server and purchase what he really needed and have my partner monitor and maintain if for a monthly fee. Choice #2, he could virtualize the server in my partner’s data center. And, Choice #3 (my personal favorite) he could tell the customer to go pound sand and find another IT company to abuse. I will report back soon on the results. No matter which way the customer goes it will be a win-win relationship for my partner.

Years ago when I was running my MSP, I had a client who signed on with me. One day I was at their office having a strategy meeting and the CEO demanded that we install key logger software on every one of the employee’s computers. I was shocked and obviously I questioned the request. I was told, “We pay your company and you need to do what we say.” For those of you know who know me best, you know that approach would never fly in my world. I politely excused myself and stepped outside to get some air and call my office. When I returned, I told the CEO, in no uncertain terms that my company would never be party to spying on the employees of any of our clients and they could find another IT company immediately. The call I made to my office was to instruct my team remove all of the software we were using to monitor this client’s servers, computers and all of their other services including backup, spam filter and security solutions. This too was the wrong type of client.

What should you be looking for when interviewing a client? That is a tough question. I recommend you be picky about the clients you take on. However, sometimes we simply have to take those clients on, especially when we are just getting started, because our business needs the revenue. The one thing I will tell you explicitly is to set the expectation with the client. Make sure they know your company will do everything in its power to help their business, but not at the risk of your reputation or ethics.

We have all had similar client horror stories. I’d love to hear your stories. Tell me what happened and what did you do to resolve the issues.

Finding new customers is easy because a customer will buy from anyone once or twice. Finding a client is tough. It takes time, you have to listen to them and ask the right questions. When you find a good client, work with them and make sure you are communicating back and forth, clearly and regularly.

Remember, you are not in the business of technology; you are in the business of customer service. Communicate with and provide service to your clients the same way you expect service providers to do for you.

All the best in success,


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