Got the balls to fire your biker clients?

80 percent of our profits come from 20 percent of our clients. Yet we often give our worst, most debilitating and unprofitable clients our most intense attention and very best efforts. They’re rude, bullies, have outrageous expectations, treat our people terribly, ruin staff morale, disrupt the momentum we have on our important clients and inevitably complain about bills, even when we deliver great results!

I call them ‘bikers’. Here’s why, and here’s why you should fire them, TODAY.

It’s a great story, and a two minute read. But two minutes you’ll remember for as long as you work with clients. ‘Bikers’ will become a word you use in your agency. And if you ARE a client, and recognise any of these behaviours, then – please: stop and think. You’ll never get the best from your agencies if you’re a ‘biker’. Here’s the story…

Picture this:

You have a wonderful 16 year old daughter. You adore her. She is going out on her first big night out. You agree she’ll be home by 11 pm. At 11.30 pm – no sign of her. Your heart is beating faster. Midnight- and still no sign of her.

Then you hear the roar of a motorbike. You look through the curtains. Screaming up the drive is a Harley Davidson. Driving – a huge, tattooed, bearded, leather jacketed biker, swigging from a bottle of bourbon. Clinging onto the back, dress flying everywhere, your sweet baby girl!!! The bike races through the flower beds, up the front stairs, does a skiddy on the polished deck floor boards, dirt and smoke a plenty, screeches to a halt. The biker hops off, grabs your daughter in his arms and starts trying to …..(sorry- you get the picture…).

Now- do you open the door, embrace him warmly, and kiss him on both cheeks? Do you say: “Welcome dear old friend! I am so thrilled to see you getting intimate with my little darling daughter. Come on in. Please, sit in my favourite chair. Put your muddy boots up on the polished coffee table. Let me furnish you with a glass of Grange Hermitage and perhaps you’d enjoy one of my fine Cohiba Siglio VI cigars?”

NO! YOU DON’T. What you actually do is get out your shot gun, point it at the biker and you say, very firmly: “ENOUGH ALREADY! OUT OF HERE. VAMOOSE!!”

Do you have clients who treat you and your team appallingly?

They don’t involve you in their business. Keep you on the outer. They pitch out every project, or threaten to. Then they call up out of the blue. It’s always ‘urgent and mission critical.’ Give you a small project with big expectations and ridiculous deadlines. They demand your senior people work on it, are unco-operative during the process, rude, bullying, inconsistent, contradictory, expect you to jump through hoops. Your team burns the midnight oil. And when you’ve delivered a great outcome against all odds, these clients say nothing, except when they get the bill of course. Then they always complain. Push for a discount. Argue and bitch. Do you have clients like that?

And here’s the rub.

When they call, do you generally break out into a beaming smile and say: “Welcome, my dear, old friend! I am thrilled to see you. Come on in! Put your muddy feet up on my polished coffee table. Have a glass of my Grange Hermitage and perhaps I could tempt you with a fine Cohiba from my private collection?” You do, don’t you? Come on now- yes you do….admit it…

These are ‘Biker” clients. FIRE THEM!!!!!!

Have courage. Get out the shot gun. BANG! The moment you do, your staff will shout “HOOOOORAYYY!” The mood will lift, you can focus on your best clients, and you’ll have a better, happier, more effective and more profitable agency.

And Client Possum Readers- don’t become Bikers, and if you suspect your agency is being held back by Biker clients, please get on the phone and tell them to FIRE THEM NOW.

Remember- 80 percent of our profits come from 20 percent of our clients. Treat that 20% like kings and queens- and fire the bikers. Sometimes the ‘King/Queen’ clients can be challenging too. Of course they can. But when they are delivering significant profits or covering significant overhead, suck it in and work hard to build the partnership and improve the working relationship, ‘one tackle at a time.’

A thank you to Tom Bell, Chief Executive of Burson-Marsteller in the mid 1990s, for telling me that story. It’s been a valuable reality check ever since.

PS  I am expecting a call from my lawyer shortly to fire me… BANG. He’s a bit slow and will now realise, at last,  that I am a major biker. Dammit!

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16 Responses to Got the balls to fire your biker clients?

  1. Jo Bayley August 3, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    So true! We had a shocker of a client – great international brand so looked good on the roster, but they were incredibly demanding and were on a small margin agreed internationally.
    After a particularly harrowing meeting we went back to the office and reviewed their profitability. Reality is they simply weren’t worth it. So we fired them and never looked back.
    If our other clients had realised the stresses and demands they’d put on us, to the detriment of their own brands, I’m sure they would have been on the phone demanding exactly what Chris is suggesting.

    • Chris Savage August 3, 2011 at 11:59 am #

      Thanks Jo! What a perfect story to back up the proposition. Thanks for sharing! Chris

  2. Lynn Poole August 3, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Love it, love it, love it. Great article Chris and love the analogy – just picturing you with that shot gun in years to come – too funny.
    Keep ’em coming.

    • Chris Savage August 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

      Thanks Lynn- yes, I am loading it now!

  3. Stuart Harvey August 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Great post Chris.

    It took me a long time to realise that I didn’t have to please everyone.
    Clients will always be demanding as I am sure we are with our own suppliers but there is always a line and when that line is crossed it’s time to say no.

    Keep the posts coming Chris they are always a good read.

    • Chris Savage August 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

      Thanks Stuart- glad you’re enjoying them and thanks for commenting.

  4. Carl Sherriff August 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Nice analogy Chris, thanks.
    Does this mean you wouldn’t pitch for the Harley Davidson account? Cheers, Carl.

    • Chris Savage August 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

      Aha! Certainly would- very professional organisation!

  5. Stuart Carson August 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Insightful post as always Chris.

    Some clients are genuine bikers and your advice is spot on. But it’s when clients TURN INTO bikers that we shoulder at least some of the responsibility.

    It normally goes something like this: Client has unrealistic expectations. Client’s unrealistic expectations go unchallenged. Client gets pissed off when the expectations are not met. Client starts demanding ever more unreasonable things. Hey presto, a biker is born.

    We can help avoid this by challenging unreasonable expectations from the start and generally being honest up front about what we can achieve. Let an expectation gap fester and you are asking for a knock on the door from a smelly bker.

    That’s my view anyway.

    • Chris Savage August 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

      Thanks Stuart- great point and absolutely agree with you. Chris

  6. Kollin August 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Thanks Chris, you reminded me not to please anyone and instead focus on those who bring value.

  7. Tania Jayesuria August 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    Great post Chris – I’d dare say the majority of agencies would find it tough to give up these types of clients simply because they need/want the work. I think the most challenging thing about agency is when your “King/Queen” clients are in fact the “Biker” clients. For the sake of the bottom line, you invest as much as possible into keeping these clients happy, but it is never really appreciated and the relationship never seems to warm up. Obviously giving up a top tier client is a huge business decision and can’t (nor should it) be taken lightly, but when it comes at the cost of team morale – with unnecessary stress and expectations, little reward or satisfaction, and in some cases results in team members actually resigning – I think the “powers that be” need to be more prepared to rethink the importance of the bottom line and the value that these types of clients ultimately provide for the agency.

    • Chris Savage August 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

      Thanks so much Tania. Great perspective. You are so right!

  8. Kristin Meagher August 4, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    And then there are the lost puppy clients.

    They take up too much time and energy as well.

    They show up on your doorstep and they look harmless enough, in fact they are kinda cute and you kinda feel sorry for them and want to help them out. You imagine the loving, clever and faithful dog they might turn into one day.

    But there is often a reason they are lost in the first place. And sometimes they do respond to your kindness and direction and sometimes helping them out is a really rewarding challenge and you win a friend for life.

    But some lost puppies like all the sympathy and attention and don’t want to learn new skills, even when you bop them on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. They just keep on being lost and hopeless and waste your time. Lost puppies are the ones who keep you waiting for twenty minutes every time they call a meeting, lose your document, ignore the brief, forget the big picture, misremember things and start wild goose chases. They cry out at awkward, unplanned times, then they ignore your best advice, then they want that advice re-framed again and again with minor but unfathomably critical variations. Then they go all non responsive and you’re left thinking that maybe they drowned themselves, only to have them show up again when you least expect it, all roughed up and grubby, having done something you specifically warned them not to do.

    It’s hard to turn a lost puppy away as well, but sometimes they soak up more time, concern and energy than they can ever be worth.

    The lost puppy is somehow more pernicious than the biker client. You can see the biker coming and his boots leave a massive imprint, but the puppy pads softly and looks at you with doe-like eyes designed to make you go soft. The trick is to recognise which puppies are smart and which, no amount of dog whispering can shape.

    If you are a lost puppy client you need to get your act together before your agency fires you because there are so many other smarter puppies out there who are willing to play ball.

  9. C. Lient August 9, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    I think agencies can do a better job at preventing the biker scenario by a) not accepting biker clients in the first place and b) being more honest as to nature of the relationship is beyond the completion of the first project (and this is particularly true for clients with smaller pockets).

    Agencies are great at painting a picture of success and long lasting relationships but less so at being clear about the small print…

    “look, we can build you a great website for $50,000 but you really need to keep us on a retainer of a minimum of $3,000 per month to get the level of attention you expect”

    Technology is also often addressed superficially.

    “We’ll build the site on our propriety platform that is very easy to use”

    Which in most cases means that the site is made to fit into the CMS rather than addressing specific business requirements. And the client remains tied to the agency.

    I’ve worked on both sides and have experienced this first hand: the agency big talk at the beginning, the mediocre solution (delivering a fat margin) and all the pain after that.

    • Chris Savage August 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

      Dear C.Lient, Thanks for the comments. Great insight. Agree entirely. Chris

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