How To Diagnose Your Client Before the Sale

by Terri Scott 5 Minutes

diagnose Google SearchImagine that a client has approached you for work.

Or imagine that after lots of hard marketing effort, you’ve managed to convince a prospective client to give your offer serious consideration.

No matter what your current scenario is, you’re finding that you’re this close to landing a new client, putting work on the books, and most importantly, padding your financial coffers.

But what a minute!

Are you certain that this is the client you need to form a partnership with?

You’ve heard the client horror stories. Your friends and colleagues have probably bombarded you with sad tales of misguided partnerships. I recently talked about why you should fire toxic clients in the new year.

But what if you could avoid them to begin with?

What if you could allow yourself to pause for a beat and give yourself the time to diagnose your prospective client?

What if you took that extra day to truly think about what you’re getting into with this new client? And what if you didn’t allow yourself to make your next business decision based upon fear, financial need, or excitement?

What might your diagnostic review process uncover?

Since prospects don’t come to you with warning labels, a bit of sleuthing is key to uncover symptoms that could reveal the potential for a diseased business relationship.

Here’s a few questions I’ve learned to ask after healing from sickly client partnerships:

Is The Prospect Neglecting Crucial Operating Functions?

One day as I was reflecting on how I’d gotten involved with a client who turned out to be clueless about content marketing (and a host of other things), I remembered something that they’d said.

The comment seemed insignificant at the time, but in retrospect, that small comment should have served like a huge red-flag:

We haven’t focused on marketing in about five years.

The client (still a prospect at the time the phrase was uttered) went on to explain that they’d managed to generate business by word-of-mouth contacts, and now, they were out of contacts to tap on the shoulder for referrals.

Nevermind the fact the client in question runs a digital marketing agency!

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again:

If you fail to market, then you’ll fail to pay your bills (let alone turn a profit)!

If I had to do things over again, I’d never do business with a prospect in any industry who failed to perform marketing functions, especially for so long a period of time!

Are They Price Shoppers?

In general, there’s three category of clients:

  • Those who shop for quality, sparing no expense
  • Those who shop for the best value for their money
  • Those who want to spend the least amount possible, regardless of quality

Of course, the holy-grail client of every business owner (regardless of the size of your business) is the client who spares no expense for high-quality work.

These are the clients who understand that hiring the best talent isn’t a line-item expense: It’s an investment.

But there’s the rub:

These are often the type of clients who only work with A-list creatives.

You know, the names that everyone’s heard of. The type of creatives who can send their clients five and six-figure invoices without batting an eye. The type of creatives who charge four to five figures an hour for their consultation fees.

And while you’re probably a great creative professional, chances are very good that you’re not in this realm just yet. And that means that unless you become darned-lucky, then the holy-grail clients aren’t going to give you their business.

That leaves you haggling with the clients in the bottom two categories. The second type of prospective client appreciates great creative work, but they want to receive the work at the lowest price possible.

Think of them as the retail mark-down store customer. These are customers who love finding a $60 coat marked down from its $200 original retail price.

Worse, they expect everything in life to be priced like one big mark-down store! They don’t understand that there’s a huge difference between fungible commodities and creative work that serves as an appreciating asset.

And then, there’s the bottom-tier prospective client.

They’re the ones who could care less about the quality of the product, so long as the invoice fits in the price range they’re willing to pay. Mind you, the price they’re (usually) willing to pay falls well below the point of what’s customary or reasonable.

But mention this fact to this type of prospect, and they’ll practically bare their fangs at you! And they’re not above playing gaslighting (perception mind games) or projection games on you if you try to fight for a fair rate quote, either.

It’s not hard for you to figure out which type of prospect you have on your hands, either. Simply start quoting your fees.

The lowest tier prospect won’t even allow you to pitch your services. They’ll angrily demand to know how much you charge, immediately!

The second-tiered client will listen to your pitch, but they’ll negotiate you down as low as possible. And if you’re blessed to land a holy-grail client, then they’ll pay your fee if you’ve pitched yourself as a trustworthy, high-quality service provider.

Do They Make You Feel Valued Or Disposable?

I recently had a refreshing experience with a short-term client. I was asked to quote my content management consultation fees.

Instead of making me feel guilty for quoting my fee, the prospect asked me if they could start out with a smaller block of consult time at my quoted fee. They didn’t argue with me as to why I should lower my price “like the others do.”

Not only was a I glad to provide them with my service, I thanked them for not devaluing my work by demanding that I lower my fees to accommodate their needs.

Do They Project Their Inadequacies On You?

I once pitched my service fees to a prospective client outside of the content marketing realm. They immediately wrote back, informing me that they’d been quoted a much lower fee by a stable of prospective service providers.

They went on to mention that they (the prospect) could probably find service providers offering fees that were lower than they were quoted.

If no one tells you this, then please let this sink in:

People endeavor in business to generate revenue and become profitable.

Let me be more plain:

You don’t owe it to your prospects to lower your fees to accommodate their finances.

You aren’t cheating or scamming anyone out of their money by charging fees that are in line with your current market value.

You have every right to become wildly profitable and prosperous.

Anyone who makes you feel otherwise is projecting their financial or personal inadequacy on you, and you should leave smoke running away from them!

Client acquisition can feel like the most exciting part of operating your own business, but failing to diagnose your client before you accept the project could turn your partnership into a sickly (and possibly fatal) experience!

*photo source

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by Terri Scott
Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time. You can view her work at, and she'd love to hear from you: