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Do you choose your clients, or do they choose you? The answer is not a simple one and will depend on many factors including the maturity of your business. It’s an empowering place to be when you are so sure of your mission, values, and areas of expertise that you can pick and choose the customers you work with and those you don’t.

All customers are not created equal, and we all know the impact a customer that is the wrong fit can have on your business in regard to profitability, time and brand. To me, cultural fit is paramount, and working with the wrong fit is unlikely to end well.

I remember an owner of a business telling me that he was about to remove his biggest client from his business. In every which way that is a big step and was a big step for them at the time. He said if he didn’t, he would lose his best staff and the overall culture of his team who really disliked dealing with this company. That is a bold step but also someone who understands the value of cultural fit. Catching up with that business recently they had done just that and whilst they had some short-term pain, he felt it was the best decision they had ever made.

When we were a new business, I had gone to meet with a potential client with one of our training team regarding some sales development for their team. Ostensibly the meeting went well but something didn’t feel right. When I left the meeting with our trainer, I asked her how she felt about the meeting and like me, she also found it awkward, and something didn’t sit right. We agreed not to work with this company, to leave the relationship in a friendly way but not to actively seek out their business. This was a tough call at the time as we were a new business and needed as much business as we could get. Our intuition proved right when the CEO of that business rang our trainer directly suggesting they deal directly with her and cut our company out of the deal. Naturally she declined.

This was our first call on not to deal with a company due to cultural fit - but not the last. I have concluded that this is one of the most important things that businesses can do to enhance their own performance. So important that this should be one of the biggest focuses of your sales process. Just like it is when you are recruiting for new team members, I believe it is equally important with your clients.

The problem is that not all relationships will be as obvious as to when the cultural fit is not going to be a good one. It’s also important to realise that it doesn’t mean that either side is wrong in their approach or values, just that they are different.

When we think of our ideal customer profile, we need to put cultural fit near the top. Everyone in business will be able to highlight great clients and not so great clients. What is it that set those great relationships apart from those good ones? If I think of our best ones, it fits very naturally, nothing feels awkward, they value us, and we value them and there is trust on both sides. As opposed to those clients that take up most of your time and are just hard work. These clients are who we call ‘quicksand’. You all have one. Best piece of advice I think I could ever give is pleasantly remove them from your client list, even better refer them to your biggest competitor!

When you have the right clients, business becomes easier and the good news is that they refer similar, when you have the wrong clients, they refer the wrong clients.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all had companies where we could choose who we worked with? I would love to see that mindset shift in the eyes of most B2B salespeople instead of the usual desperation to want to work with everyone. I believe we can have that but to do that we need to focus on cultural fit as one of the top criteria when selling to a company as opposed to the usual size of companies.

For me some of the important cultural fit criteria are as follows:

  • Is there mutual trust and respect?
  • Is there equal power in the relationship?
  • Do you want your client to be successful?
  • Will clients allow you to guide them in a different direction, are they ‘teachable’?
  • Do they respond to your communication in a timely manner?
  • Do they operate at a similar pace/cadence?
  • Do both sides respond well to a problem?

It is well worth your while to set up some sort of measuring system/matrix to rate potential clients based on cultural fit – as per the above criteria, and add some of your own unique ones too - excel spreadsheet will do fine. Apply this to current and past clients, play with the scoring and you will quickly see those clients your gut told you to reject, could have been picked up in this measuring system.

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