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Recognising time-wasting potential clients

Date

Saturday, 01 August, 2009

Content A few years ago, I regretfully spent time on putting together six proposals for a particular "potential" client. Not all at the same time, but one after another, most of which were for potential projects on well-known international brands.

I'm sure I'm not the only person in business, who welcomes opportunities like this and rise to the occasion when they appear. However, in this particular case, I never heard back about the proposals, nor did I see any proof that the potential client had gone to another supplier (I did do some research).

Recently, this potential client contacted me again for a quote, and with some hesitation, I thought "well, why not, I don't have to spend much time on this". So I gave the quote.

Then the first enquiry came. For the record, this potential client was trying to sell our service to his client :

"Our client wants to know what the difference is between the work you do and the work their webmaster does."

The lack of understanding that the value a design company could give, turned me completely off. With this contact's track record, I saw the light as they say, and made my excuses and left...

Not wanting to waste time

To explain, as an interactive design company, we quoted on rebuilding a website using a new brand logo and new content. A "webmaster" generally maintains a website, but can have all sorts of responsibilities (which would be agreed with their employer) which could include rebuild of a website.

To cut a long story short, we don't know what the difference between the work is without knowing what this webmaster's actual responsibilities are and since this could be a cost reducing measure from the end client's perspective, with respect to the (small) budget, we didn't wait to find out.

Selling services not understood

What I realised is that our potential client was more or less trying to sell our services, (on top of his consulting services which I'm sure he is an expert in) but the likelihood is, that he didn't really have a clue about them. Otherwise, I believe that before coming to us, he should already have clarified the requirements for the quote so that the above question did not need to be asked.

With this in mind, its probably not surprising that none of the proposals went ahead. He basically may not have had the knowledge to explain the benefits of a service like ours in order to match it to the requirements of the client.

Partnering skillsets

With hindsight, it may be easy to flag up an opportunity to partner our skillsets and approach the end client together, which has worked successfully with other projects. In this case, the mistake our potential client may have made, could be that he didn't suggest this. The mistake I made, was the assumption that he could sell the proposal to the end client - an assumption I had that lasted 6 proposals.

To recap
  • A potential client calls, asking for proposals
  • The proposals are for well known international brands
  • Questions and enquiries ensue
  • A promise that the potential client will be in touch
  • No word for 2 years
  • Potential Client calls again requesting a new proposal
  • We quote
  • An enquiry is made
  • I see the light and decline the opportunity

Other ways to recognise time-wasters

There are of course, other ways to recognise time-wasting clients, for other reasons. Here's one for free - they ask you to pitch, then after the results come back and you haven't got the job, they reveal that no other cost could beat an indian company that was also on the pitch list.

I guess an enquiry to the potential client asking about the other companies on the pitch list would suffice.

Relationship building with real potential clients

Also, be aware that some clients may appear to waste your time, but don't. In one particular case, I discuss a job with another potential client but then didn't hear back for a year. When I heard from them again, we got the job.

In this case, the potential client wanted to find out more about us but didn't ask us to put the time in to prepare a quote. However, we still maintained a relationship, and gave the benefit of doubt to the situation. The obvious words here are "networking" and "relationship building".

When it comes down to it, each potential opportunity really can be unique. Someone who might seem like a time-waster might not be and vice versa. As with most things in business, you'll probably need a combination of experience and the ability to listen, understand and read between the lines, to sniff out the time-wasters.

Even so, I make no excuses - anyone could still be wrong. And if you're actually on the commissioning side, please heed all the pointers in this article!

Anyway, back to our "potential client". Although I responded politely to the question (above), and wished him all the best in finding another supplier, I still to this date, did not receive a 'thank-you' for the time we spent on the proposals. But I'm not bitter, I got my experience out of that and I'll know for next time.

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