8 Signs You Should Walk Away From a Sale

There are lots of books, courses and trainers in the business world who can teach you how to sell. We all know that sales are the life blood of our business. Without sales, you have no income and no business. Many of us wish that we could be better at selling than we are. But how do you know when NOT to sell?

When you first start your business, it is common to feel like you need all of the sales you can get. You would never dream of turning down business. Any sale is a good sale.

As your business grows, however, you should be able to hone in on your ideal client. You target your marketing and your messaging to that ideal client. You start weeding out those customers or clients who cost you more time and resources than they’re worth. You fill your business with ideal clients.

There’s a good reason to focus on building your ideal clientele vs. just any clientele. If you are in a service industry, you will do your best work with your ideal clients. On the other hand, working with frustrating clients or clients who are not a good match for your expertise or what your business has to offer, will actually drain your energy, affect the quality of your work, and diminish your capacity to do your best work for your ideal clients. Whether you sell a product or a service, there are some less than ideal clients who will drain your resources, while your best clients will help your business run like a well oiled machine.

Perhaps you have had this experience. The phone rings. You see the client’s caller ID come up. And it’s all you can do to force yourself to pick up the phone, because you know that the call is most likely going to be about a problem, or they are going to ask you to do something that you don’t really want to do, but you will do it anyway in the name of customer service. That is not an ideal client, and if you calculate the time and energy that you spend on this client, you might find that they are not a very profitable client either.

Perhaps you have also experienced the opposite situation. You may (and I hope you do) have clients that you are always happy to hear from. They never have a problem with you, and if they do, you happily and easily resolve it for them. They love you and your product or service. They refer business to you. They don’t take up more than their fair share of your time and resources. You want more customers like them.

The only way to fill your business with those ideal clients is to avoid taking on the less than ideal clients. You have to know when to walk away from a sale. Yes, I said it – sometimes you have to walk away from a sale.

One of my clients (we’ll call her Janet) recently told me a story about a meeting she had with a potential client. The prospect had previously been difficult to communicate with, and after a couple of phone calls, told Janet that she wasn’t interested in her services. The prospect then called her back several weeks later and asked to meet. The meeting started out fine with some pleasant small talk, but as soon as they started talking about business, the prospect became aggressive, challenging and belligerent. Understandably, Janet was completely taken aback by this behavior.

Janet then asked me, “what am I doing wrong? Why wasn’t I able to show her the value of my services?” At which point I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her! Instead, I asked her “what would it be like to work with person? Can you see yourself in a good working relationship with her?” Her answer – “No! It would be terrible!”

In this situation, it was very clear to me that even if she could convince this prospect to work with her, it would not be a productive relationship for Janet. She needed to walk away from the sale. But until I pointed this out, Janet was ready to continue to pursue the prospect, trying to work it out. This is not surprising. It is our natural tendency to want to change someone’s mind about us, to make them “like” us and our products and become a customer. Successful entrepreneurs are tenacious and don’t give up easily. But in this type of “bad prospective client” situation, those traits don’t necessarily serve the business well!

The first step towards avoiding those less than ideal clients is to change our mindset. Not every client is a good client. Be picky about who you pursue. And know when to walk away from a sale.

The following are signs that you should walk (or even run) away from a sale:

1. The prospect frequently cancels or doesn’t show up to your appointments.

2. You feel frustrated and drained by your dealings with the prospect.

3. The prospect does not share your Immutable Laws  (values) and they express beliefs or take actions that go against your values.

4. They are taking a disproportionate amount of your time and effort. If they are needy and time consuming before they become your customer, chances are they will behave the same way once they become your customer.

5. They do not see the value in your product or service, and it is difficult to convince them of why they want or need it.

6. You don’t like them. Unless you will never have to personally deal with this person again, it is very hard to work for/with someone you don’t like!

7. They have rules, requirements or requests that your company cannot easily accommodate without adding resources or making costly changes to your operations.

8. Your gut/intuition is telling you this client is not right for your business. You don’t hear this often in business, but most people do not listen to their “gut feelings” enough. If you have a bad feeling about the prospect don’t ignore it!

I want to leave you with a final thought. When you spend your time pursuing clients who are not a good match for your business, you have less time to pursue your ideal client. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad prospect so that you can find a better one – your business will thank you!

Donna Leyens Pumpkin Plan your BizWritten by:

Donna Leyens

13 replies
  1. Donna Leyens
    Donna Leyens says:

    Turning down business, even if you know it’s the right thing to do, can be both scary and freeing. Can you share any instances where you have turned away a customer, and what that experience was like for you? Did you feel like you made the right move?

  2. Kevin Puls - "...online, email marketing maven."
    Kevin Puls - "...online, email marketing maven." says:

    When I receive a lead from my efforts, or if I even get a referral from a friend, I treat each prospect the same way, regardless of the source.

    As I told my friend (who just so happens to be a retired NH player) the other day at one of his company’s Meet-n-Greet, I told him and the president of the company that I have the mindset of “pre-disqualifying” prospects.

    So, depending on my intuition (gut feeling, as you mentioned, Donna), I send the prospect one of two questionaires which actually has them thinking about their business – look back and introspect at their actions/campaigns.

    If I get a good feeling/vibe from them, I send them the thirty (30) question survey. If they come off, or appear more stand-offish, I send them the 200 question survey. This way, I know how serious they are in wanting to better understand their company’s short comings. The questions are pointed, and highly intuitive, making them reflect on their actions and campaigns.

    Have your prospect jump thru hoops – this has them put “skin in the game”, like charging for a meeting, b/c your time is precious.

  3. Terri
    Terri says:

    Amen Donna! I used to ignore the signs and push forward with the sale all of the time. I just believed that some clients would be good, some would be bad and that’s just the way it goes. Only after having been severely burned by a couple of clients did I start to really pay attention to my intuition, and it is almost always right. Interestingly, the prospect is sometimes too agreeable. They don’t ask any questions and everything is just ok with them. Only later do I find out their bank account is empty or they’re a con artist.

    • Donna Leyens
      Donna Leyens says:

      Wow, Terri, that’s a good point. Lack of interest or low engagement is a good sign that the sale might not be worth pursuing. Thanks for sharing!

  4. David Mullings
    David Mullings says:

    Donna, this so spot on and I have been through it both on the customer acquisition side and the investor pitch side.

    Too often we focus too much on growing sales or getting investors but forget to focus on the after. We don’t think through how the relationship will function after, if it will be a profitable relationship or not. We tend to forget to include soft costs such as added stress, extra resources and enjoying what we do.

  5. Rodrigo Laddaga
    Rodrigo Laddaga says:

    Thanks for shearing this Donna. It is great advice, we often know what leads are “problematic” from the start and despite all the signs, we continue trying to sale. I think that the hardest part of this is basically discipline the sales force of the company to do this. Sales people are always trying to pursue leads despite of the signs that it is not an ideal customer. This list is a great step by step tool to know when to quit.

  6. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    Your advice is spot on, Donna — I just wish I’d known these things (and listened to them) when I first started in business. I let my own money fears rule my decision-making. Bad idea! I loved the affirmation to listen more to my own intuition and to notice when prospects are taking a disproportionate amount of time to close. Smart tips, those.


  7. Tonja
    Tonja says:

    I have been down this road and it is a tough one. Continuing the realtionship however is just not appropriate, it is time to walk away! Thanks for the insight!

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