Be Polite!

Need to fire a deadbeat client? Here’s how. In 7 steps.

Last week I argued that recruiters (and indeed all service providers), need to fire clients who are uncooperative or unprofitable.

Plenty of ‘The Savage Truth’ readers agreed, but many asked, “How do I actually do it?”.

Fair question. And the truth is that it is not easy. But there are two guiding principals I have found are fundamental for this to work out well.

•    Be upfront and crystal-clear about what you are doing, and why.
•    Be scrupulously polite and always leave the door open.

Firstly, before you sit the client down for a good firing, you must decide whether there are any circumstances where you would do business with this client again. Usually that is the case. That being so, it’s crucial to leave the communication door open for the relationship to be picked up again, if the circumstances are right.

Occasionally, usually where the client has been obnoxious or dishonest, you may decide never to do business with this person again (a liberating feeling, I promise!). In which case, you can kill the thing stone dead, there and then. But still politely. Extra enemies, none of us need.

So, how to go about doing the deed?

1. Firstly, if possible, physically sit down with your client, face to face. If that’s not possible, then over the phone is the next best thing. Email? Never works. Always ends ugly. Don’t go there.

2. Secondly, your tone is collaborative (avoid revealing the anger and bitterness and hate and frustration and annoyance you really feel!) Be polite. Be respectful.

3. Then, it’s your time to explain to the client that you really do want to work with him, and you really do want to help him acquire great talent. But, that the status quo does not allow you to do that.

4. Then go through the market conditions that prevail, the difficulties in finding talent, and go on to spell out everything you will do to assist this client get what he needs. Explain in detail your process and your quality commitments and everything else that makes up your service, and what you need to do to get the results the client wants. This might seem strange, as you are about to sever the relationship, but no! What you are doing is laying the path for the client to be rehabilitated. Either right now in this conversation (unlikely), or sometime in the future when they realise they really do need your help (slightly more likely).

But then…

5. You shift the conversation to what the client needs to do to make the whole partnership work for his/her benefit.

You see what you have done? “I want to help you. This is what I do to help you. But this is what you need to do to help you.”

So you might say, “Mr. Client, you have heard me explain all the things I will do to solve your hiring challenges, but that’s only half the equation. For this to work we need you to… be more responsive, be open to advice, be more flexible, pay better salaries, interview the candidates I recommend”. Or whatever it is the client is not doing.

6. Then say, “So this is how we can really get the result you want. Can you commit to working this way with me?” This is the “It’s my way or the highway, baby!” question. But you are doing it so nicely.

7. If the answer to that question is a flat ‘no’, just be upfront. “Working the way we currently do, Mr. Client, does not get the results you or I want. Of course it is your choice how you work, so when you are ready to come back and work with me in a partnership model, in the way I have described today, I will be delighted to start working with you again”

Bang! That is a fired client!

But the door is still open.

And no one has been rude or been insulted or been humiliated.

Keep polite, keep collaborative, and keep saying you want his business. But on certain terms.

Truthfully, once fired, how often does the client “come back into the fold”?

About 1 time in 5, is my experience.

But that’s cool! The other four you did not want, and the one who comes back is like the prodigal son.

Chastened and grateful.



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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.

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10 Responses to Need to fire a deadbeat client? Here’s how. In 7 steps.

  1. Alan Allebone February 20, 2013 at 8:54 am #

    I have just had to do this last Wednesday Greg!

    A client who has been for a while messing me around has been time and money wasting. Not to mention the candidates being messed around.

    We had a pleasant meeting and all was great and then I hit him with my news.

    He was very upset as I had been working with him for a while but he just started being dishonest with me until I caught him out with his lies!.

    I then managed to get a couple of assignments on from one of his competitors and he noticed my advertisement. he called me to try and see who the client was. He is now very worried that his staff may apply to my advert. I would not knowingly or intently encroach on any of his staff but I can not stop them from applying to my advert. I told him this and he has asked me to go and talk to him again.

    He nows wants me to go have lunch with him and discuss an agreement and that I can bacsically lay down the rules as to how I want to manage his recruitment. I said I would certainly think about it but only after concluding my current assignment with his competititor.

    He nows emails me almost every other day asking how I am and how I am getting on with my assignment. I have just replied all is fine.

    A lesson these clients needs to be taught so they do not keep walking all over us!
    Thank you Greg
    Kind regards


    • Greg Savage February 20, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      Great story Alan, well done you for having the courage to do what you did. What happened here is EXACTLY why I recommend firing these clients who treat us with disrespect
      Thanks for commenting

  2. Gordon Alderson February 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Another great post Greg,
    I’d like to add that it’s good to fire bad personal clients but not that person’s organisation. Make it a one-to-one firing. A fired personal client is hardly likely to become an advocate client. However when a consultant fires a personal client, in my experience, the other people in the organisation recognise that the consultant showed guts and integrity and will stick by that consultant, even become advocate clients, once the fired client moves on. So often they do.

  3. Andrew White February 20, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Hi Greg, a great article as always. In the instance that the client does not respond to your requests for a face to face meeting and will not communicate over the phone, do you have any suggestions as to how you can get around this? Communicating something like this on email is clearly difficult as you mention – but often a non-communicative client only ever seems to check their emails and therefore leaves little opportunity to do anything other than highlight your concerns via this medium. I know there’s no easy answer, but dealing with that difficult situation of a client that isn’t playing ball and wanting to do something other than just ‘give up’ after repeated attempts in my opinion leaves little option but to politely fire over email? Your thoughts welcomed.

    • Greg Savage February 20, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

      You are right Andrew, sometimes we just have no alternative. Of course, a client who will not engage with us in any way other than email, pretty much self-selects as a candidate for firing.

      So in this situation, yes, and email will have to do, but try and replicate, within reason, the approach i suggest in the article
      Thanks very much for reading my blog, and your comment

  4. Alan Allebone February 21, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    I have to say Andrew and Greg, I did something that was as my colleagues said very gutsy and risky. When one of my former personal clients would not return phone calls or the couple of emails I sent, I went round to his office unannounced and as a busy large reception area with several people there waiting to see various people I said in a voice to be heard that I wanted to see Mr Joe Bloe and gave a reason that was as he would not return my calls due to him being so busy I thought i would pop round. The looks i got but Andrew and Greg it worked! My former personal client came out extremely embarrassed but sat down with me in a room where I unloaded upon him. I asked him why he would not return calls and why he was playing one agency against another when we had a contract in place for exclusive recruiting for 2 years. A lot of flannel was given so i then dismissed him and asked to see his MD. I did not see the MD on that occasion but did later. he was and the company were in breach of the contract agreement between our two companies. A lot of money at stake..
    I still do business with the company but the MD suggested i liaise with another manager and that works very well. Lost the former personal contact but gained a better one.

    Mind you I have not done that since! A bit stupid perhaps because my reputation was on the line.

  5. Emma February 27, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Completely agree with this and wish more recruitment partners would be brave enough to do this with unco-operative or unprofitably clients. Many good recruiters underestimate the value of the service they can provide to their clients and are simply grateful for any tit bits some often impossible to hire for clients will throw them, almost regardless. The energy wasted on such clients is far better directed at clients you can really add value to.

  6. Simon Greening March 1, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    Great point. One my best clients and largest placements came from doing this. It’s very daunting to do, especially in a tough market, but when done right it can be a short term AND long term win for your business.

  7. NY PM March 11, 2013 at 3:44 am #

    I do agree with this, now just have to convince my business partner that we should be ok with giving bad clients the ultimatum.

    The way I see it is either we work together or they leave freeing up our resources to focus on where we can have the biggest impact and they go to our competition to bog them down and infect our competitors business.


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