Fire these clients. Now!

I talk to a lot of recruiters.

And it is tough for many of them right now. That we know.

Everybody is scrambling for a dollar, chasing every client. A bit like that sad, desperate guy in the bar at 2 am, harassing every one of the last few women left standing.

But there is the irony. As recruiters push ever harder to win the business, they get more superficial in their work, more transactional in their approach, and less discerning about whom they do business with.

I have had this debate a few times in the last month, but why follow the path of least resistance, which so many recruiters are doing right now? Why ‘be like everyone else’? Why work with those clients who treat you like mud, and jerk you around consistently?

It’s crazy! You need to head in the other direction!

You will no longer survive by spreading yourself so thin. The superficial phone call, the multi-listed, non-exclusive job order, the mad rush to get resumes across on some crazy deadline. This is not a path you want to follow.

It’s transactional. It’s superficial. It’s dangerous for your financial health. And it will smash your self-esteem too. What we want to focus on now is ‘share of wallet’, not market share.

What is important is targeting long-term clients with fee-generation growth potential. We want to work with companies that will use our services regularly. We want to partner with companies that themselves are growing. The best client is a client that has a need for all or most of your service offering.

And that might not be the biggest company. It’s more likely to be one that is smaller, growing, and without internal resources, and no social media hiring plan.

The best business is often the hardest to win, but the most profitable once you have it. The future requires us to invest time, resources and brainpower on developing, nurturing and retaining these key clients.

But it’s much more than that too.

We need to build different relationships with our clients. Engage in fresh conversations. This means providing value-added activities for your clients (webinars, blogs, snap surveys, skills testing of candidates, hiring metrics, market insights). It might include digital relationship building via social media too. The goal is ensuring a regular pattern of meaningful contact, and it also means developing proactive recruitment strategies specifically for them. At the end of the day, it’s all about the talent you can find, that they cannot.

I get resistance to this from some recruiters. They say the transactional model is ‘just the way the market is’. They acknowledge it’s mud against the wall, but they claim that’s what clients want, and to win you just need to throw more mud. If that is true, God save us! And our clients too.

But thankfully, it’s not true. The reality is that they have caved in. They have capitulated to the transactional recruiting tsunami, and joined that shallow mob of hard-selling, resume-pumping, cold-calling, candidate-burning, price-cutting recruiters, willing to play that dirty, cheap game

I don’t buy it. There IS still a market for quality recruiting. And you need to be brave enough to fire those clients who won’t work with you that way. It’s OK. More time to invest in the good ones, who do want a partnership.

And who, exactly, should you fire as a client?  These guys.

Clients who jerk you around with sketchy job specs. Clients who demand the world from you and give nothing in return. Clients who pull jobs half way through assignments. Clients who fail to return your calls and who use three other agencies in competition with you. Inflexible clients, who take no advice and ignore your feedback. Clients who unfailingly try to negotiate fees – especially after you have gone to the ends of the earth to fill their job. Clients who see no value in service or quality, but only want to talk about price. Clients who show no respect for what you do or say, who abuse your guarantee and who in the end, refuse to pay the bill.

You recognise your client here, don’t you? You are smiling as you read this! And yet we still work with these guys. Why? They absorb your time and they torpedo your self-esteem. They take your focus off where it should be – your targeted clients and prospects who can offer you long term, sustainable, profitable business.

Why do we keep on giving these pseudo-clients another chance? Why do we defend them within our companies? Why do we say “they are not so bad. They will get better. Next time we will earn a fee”?

Have a team meeting in your office, right now. Identify the culprits. Then fire these so called clients – these renegades and buccaneers – users and abusers – and put your effort into those key prospects and clients who you have identified as the sorts of employers you want to do business with. (And before you cry, ‘how do I fire a client?’, fear not, in next weeks blog, I will tell you).

Frankly, trying to pretty up these ‘clients’ is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.

A pig is still a pig… with or without makeup!


Jump on board The Savage Truth Facebook Page for real time comments, insights, rants and jokes about the wonderful world of recruitment.


About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

Connect & Subscribe

Subscribe to this blog and join me on social media. I have a lot to say. Some of it even quite good.

Subscribe (Why wouldn't you?)
Facebook (A great recruiter hangout)
Twitter (50,000+ other people do)
LinkedIn (Find out who I actually am!)
YouTube (A great face for radio)
Instagram (Pics of my recruiting travels)
Pinterest (Pin me down)
Google+ (.. because.. it's... Google?)

, , , ,

25 Responses to Fire these clients. Now!

  1. Tracy Wright February 5, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    This is a subject I feel very strongly about and an area new recruiters seem to have trouble understanding….until it happens to them. People need to have some pride in what they do and learn to say ‘no’.

  2. Hannah February 5, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Great post. Useful for all sorts of client facing people too, whether in recruitment or something else.

  3. Joanna February 5, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Totally agree Gregg, it’s a crazy market out there, and finding the right client who appreciates what you offer helps your state of mind and motivates you to give your best. Look forward to next weeks post.

  4. Joseph Taboni February 5, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Professional Fee’s are a result of Professional Service….
    If your ‘client’ is trying to beat you down on price without even listening to what you have to offer, they are obviously not too worried about what they will gain by engaging you. I take pride in my offering and will now question more as to whether they take pride in theirs. Thanks Greg, insightful as always.

  5. veronica Phillips February 5, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Great observations Greg, Have been running Aslan for 19 years and totally got in October last year that everything I knew was no longer working in the current market – that my company was doing the “definition of insanity” doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result!! Hence just before Christmas tipped my business offering on its head and started working on re-engineering. December and half January was spent planning and designing and we are now three weeks into implementation, full plan will take another 5 weeks and we are already seeing the changes and the energy in the office is unbelievable… All of this based on your words – quote “build different relationships with our clients. Engage in fresh conversations. This means providing value-added activities for your clients”).
    I have just been to visit a client this morning and she told me I am only talking to you and one other agency currently, because the others are just shouting the same words louder and louder even though I tell them that my hands are tied by the directive from the board”. Wisdom – 1. listen to what your clients are saying 2. Innovate.
    BTW: I am having more ‘fun’ and have renewed passion for my role than the last 4 years put together!
    Keep up the good work Greg your a great guide

  6. Digby Ross February 5, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Gee, look who got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning! But all very valid points Greg.

  7. Pradeep February 5, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    I agree with the advice in general Greg, however I had a situation like this where this type of client was also the most profitable (by a factor). So instead of firing the client, I just chalked it up as cost of ‘pain in the ass- pita’ premium.

    • Greg Savage February 5, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      Fair call Pradeep…these are commercial decisions we have to make. Although I do draw the distinction between a “difficult and demanding clients, where you do still get results.. and the clients I describe here, who are simply time waster

  8. Rob Scott February 5, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    Pure gold as ever Greg.

    I can think of one, if not 3, clients who I should probably fire tomorrow.

  9. Alan Allebone February 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    I remember some time ago infact a long time ago Greg you advised us to respond to clients when they asked for fees to be discounted, reduced etc to ask: What part of the service do you not want?” I also ask them why do you want it so cheap?
    I have used similar statement as Joseph mentioned “A professional fee for a professional service”
    Unfortunately Greg whilst there are recruiters out there doing it on the “cheap” and they are letting the whole profession down. Are they also lowering their standards or do they have any in the first place?
    We have set fees and terms there for a purpose, to provide a professional and safe service to our clients.
    Thank you again Greg.

  10. Richard February 5, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    I agree with your thoughts Greg, but it’s a vicious circle – which this blog over-simplifies.
    A major problem here is that there are far too many employers who don’t give the time of day to have these conversations. Touch points for recruiters within these businesses are often strictly managed by individuals who have no inclination to listen to reasons why they are undermining the whole process, and to use a phrase we know well in the UK, the response can often be “computer says no” (look it up on youtube – comedy sketch).
    Now, if we were all to walk away from these employers, we’d all be competing for an even smaller pool of potential clients, where there is simply not enough business to go round. Sooner or later therefore, “caving in” becomes a necessity in order to have any chance of meeting targets and paying the bills. And at that point the “computer says no” contact feels vindicated because their ridiculous demands are being lapped up by numerous recruiters.
    It’s a flawed system, and all parties need educating on how to improve it. But which recruiters are the ones who have enough contact and influence over the decision-making C-level individuals in an organisation to make them adopt a new strategy to cover ALL of their recruitment requirements? Answer: the exec-search consultants who don’t face this problem and are able to differentiate from the rest of us as a result (and hence benefit from the failures of the contingency transactional recruitment tsunami).
    For the record, I personally work on a largely contingent basis, but I’ve worked in a niche market for many years and have built strong relationships with my clients, so I’m already in the habit of challenging and walking away from clients who won’t budge on ridiculous demands. It’s not so easy for consultants who are looking to establish themselves in a new market however.

    • Greg Savage February 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Richard. Having owned and run a business in London for many years, I know what you are saying is totally true. Its a flawed system all right and Australia and Asia are following the same pattern. However YOU seem to have worked yourself into a position where you DO have some say about who you work with.. which is pretty much the theme of my blog in the first place. Thanks again. Great comments from you

  11. Richard February 5, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    True – unfortunately there are still too many recruiters who just aren’t prepared to challenge their clients. Here’s a good recent example I was involved in:
    We had a client review and renew their PSL recently. We’d been first tier for some time, as had the other two recruiters they were renewing with – but as part of the process they also issued new Terms, which included a 2 percentage point decrease on fees.
    I was amazed to hear that I was the only one who challenged this (the other two had actually just signed and sent them back!), but when I did, they couldn’t give any justification for the change and ultimately reverted to the previous terms. My competitors benefited as result, and I hope they’ll have been embarrassed enough to ensure they stand firmer next time!

  12. Dominic Gross February 5, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    An excellent article. The most important thing i take from this is to ‘spend quality time with quality clients.’ Consistently focusing on the disrespectful clients is only going to dent your attitude towards your job and cause a large effect on results. It seems crazy that this happens so much.

  13. Barbara Ashton February 6, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    I ask myself regularly, who do I want to spend time with? Success in all aspects of our lives depends on our being vigilant about who we associate with, and the thoughts we keep company with. Our thoughts about and our associations with great clients will ALWAYS open doors to more of the same, and vice versa.

  14. Allen Smith May 2, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    I’ve never had a client not pay me and I pick and choose which clients I could see my business partnering with…

    Isnt this common sense? I want another topic. Something I can learn from. I’ve seen this topic for regularly at least 2 or 3 times a year throughout the time I have been following you. so it would be nice to us content that is fresh please!

    Not a re-fresh! I still love your stuff.


    • Greg Savage May 3, 2013 at 12:42 am #

      “I want another topic” ,

      Hilarious post Allen. Do you want your money back too?


  15. Angela Roberts May 22, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    Greg, great points – thank you for having the courage to write this! I wholeheartedly agree – Quality Placements only happen when you place Quality Candidates with Quality Clients.

    A recruiter must not only scrutinize the hard and soft skills of their candidates and therefore select the best to represent, they must also continually evaluate the quality of their clients and only work with those who appreciate the partnership.

  16. Gumbercules July 1, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    If you think a professional is expensive, try hiring a rank amateur and then compare the costs 😉

  17. Alex Babic September 9, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

    Got one of these right now. Rang my candidates out of the blue and had a go at them for wanting so much money. I was furious.
    See you in London on the 20th, Greg!

    • Greg Savage September 9, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

      Good on you Alex, looking forward to catching up in UK

  18. Balraj Kaur February 9, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    Thanks Greg, you got the right words to express it “pretty up these ‘clients’ is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.

    A pig is still a pig… with or without makeup!”

  19. Anita September 20, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

    Funny how you know what posts I need to read 🙂 Last week I made a rookie mistake that caused me great embarrassment, , but it also made me sit back and take stock. I was working 42 jobs, 14/16 hours a day sourcing, following up, BEGGING for feedback and my desk was becoming a mess. I decided to “fire” the clients that have no respect for me or the people behind the CV. It was HARD! Two of these clients are big players, and I would have given my eye teeth before they were a client to work with them. This is what I learned. They don’t give a stuff about you or your candidate. The “gatekeepers” select the CV’s they want to pass on, but ignore the others. They don’t return calls, mails, messages and keep you hanging for WEEKS! So…those two were first on my list… I said, it was hard. I then let all the candidates referred to these companies know that despite best efforts I was unable to secure them an interview, apologized, and told them to move on. I am now concentrating on 5 clients and will resist the temptation to take on more, unless they fit the criteria you mentioned in your article.


  1. Need to fire a deadbeat client? Here’s how… – The Savage Truth - February 20, 2013

    […] Need to fire a deadbeat client? Here’s how… Last week I argued that recruiters (and indeed all service providers), need to fire clients who are uncooperative or unprofitable. […]

  2. Here's how to fire a deadbeat client, Business - June 6, 2013

    […] I argued that all service providers, need to fire clients who are uncooperative or unprofitable. Plenty of readers of my blog, The Savage Truth, agreed, but many asked, “How do I actually do […]

Leave a Reply