Is walking away from a deal the right way to go?

Over the years, I’ve walked away from a number of deals that were just not a good fit. In some cases, I felt that it would compromise the integrity of my business. Other times, it was clear to me that the client would be too difficult or high-maintenance to make the relationship mutually beneficial.

My track record in these situations is good. Walking away was a smart move financially because resources weren’t wasted on clients that simply could not be pleased. It also spared my team and me a great deal of drama and frustration.

Despite these facts, I am frequently questioned on this stance. I’ve been told that it is weak to reject business because of what might happen, and that I’m just not “hungry” enough if I’m not willing to close every deal regardless of what my gut is screaming.

Curiosity finally got the best of me. I wanted to know where others stood on this issue, so I asked my LinkedIn connections what they thought about turning down business to preserve integrity or avoid sinking too many resources into a difficult client.

When it came to integrity, the responses were pretty clear. “In a choice of integrity vs. the deal, the answer must be integrity. As a sales person your integrity is your only real possession. You must do what you say you will do and advocate for both your client and your company. To do this at the expense of your integrity is to invite a short career in sales,” wrote one respondent.

Another wrote:  “Your client base is a reflection of your company. Working with clients that are questionable in the integrity department can only cause difficulty, even if that difficulty is only angst for you and your company. Work with high integrity clients, and more high integrity clients will follow.”

Turning away difficult clients was a lot less black and white, with most advocating taking it case by case and weighing soft costs against hard dollar revenues.  For instance, one respondent wrote that “it is never a good idea to do business with a difficult customer, if by difficult you mean someone who will not pay timely (or at all), does not generate good referral business, etc. It is a good idea to work with difficult customers if you define difficult as demanding. Demanding is ok. Not paying is quite bad.”

Another noted that “…some difficult clients are just challenges, while others will tear teams apart, causing emotional wreckage that will be far more costly in the long run. I tend to side on what the effect will be on our teams (long-term view), rather than the (short-term) instant gratification of a signed contract.”

And finally, “You need to do the dollars. If the deal is still profitable to a level acceptable to the company taking a look at increased customer service needs which are added into the contract, then it’s the responsibility of the company to do the deal…Not everyone is going to be the dream client. As a matter of fact, a tough client keeps you sharp. It’s not integrity that would drive someone to saying ‘no’ to a tough client. It’s ego. Remove the ego and you can get back to the business of doing business.”

What do you think?

One thought on “Is walking away from a deal the right way to go?”

  1. This is a very worthwhile topic for discussion for a number of reasons. Here are two:

    1. The subject of sales effectiveness has to eventually come up: “If my sales people were 10% more effective, that would eliminate the need to do business with those few customers where we have to invest significant time and money to shoehorn a good fit.” It would enable a company to be more discerning–theoretically, anyway. Or maybe they’d just raise quotas and continue bringing aboard the problem customers…

    2. You can really understand the business culture of the selling organization–most specifically integrity–as you mentioned, Kathleen. Perhaps the ultimate and extreme question to test that would be something like, “Picture having a business opportunity where there was a really bad fit [pick a reason]. If you didn’t bring in this deal, it would have a significant negative impact on your business [bankruptcy, laying off people, taking a personal pay cut, etc.], what would you do?

    I’ve asked these questions and others in sessions with VPs of sales and CEOs of small to medium size businesses over the years. In a short period of time reasonable guidelines and policies can be developed.

Comments are closed.