New business sometimes lands you in strange places – learn how to read the signs.

new business nightmare prospect

Understanding the warning signs is key to avoiding a nightmare prospect.

This has never been truer than in challenging time like these. Winning is everyone’s objective, but every agency has a nightmare client that was once a promising prospect.

Our agency-clients often ask if there is a way to assess in advance what prospects and accounts will drain profits and drive you to madness once they become clients. Sanders Consulting Group advocates the use of an active outreach program for screening prospects. You need a clear understanding of the prospects personality, history, objectives, budget, and expectations for all prospects in your database.

Agencies don’t take on these clients willingly. Dysfunctional, destructive or disorganized prospects slip through the cracks all the time pulling you into lose-lose relationships that drain patience, time, resources and profits. The time to confirm and clarify a prospects “nightmare potential” is during the first visit. Doing so can keep you from investing time and energy into loser accounts.

The Five Warning Signs of a Nightmare Ad Agency Prospect:

  1. First In: You are their first agency. This is a red flag. Take a pass and allow another agency the frustration of training them
  2. Fuzzy Direction: The prospect is not clear about what he or she wants, but somehow expects your agency to produce it without detailed input
  3. Revolving Door: The prospect reports having had a lot of problems with their previous agencies. A pattern of “problem” agencies could be a sign of a problem client
  4. Easy Peasy: The prospect is ignorant about marketing, advertising, or the creative process and has no competent staff. This prospect often expects you to wave a magic wand, with little understanding of the complexity or expense of developing and producing effective work
  5. Cheapskate: The prospect makes it clear that they are looking for a bargain and focuses entirely on cost

If you have found one or more of these signs, proceed with caution!

If you decide to attempt to turn this prospect into a client, here are some steps that you can take to minimize the risk:

  • Document Major Concerns: In writing with a conference report following your first visit with the prospect. In your reports make sure to outline the framework for a successful relationship.
  • Over Communicate: Maintain constant communication becoming their best friend and confidant. We recommend you create a binder and number every conference report, and be over organized.
  • Don’t Let Problems Fester: They are much easier to solve when they are small problems. Keep the focus on relationships not issues
  • Educate Them: Explain the impact of their behavior on schedules, budgets and deliverables.

Search consultants and Cattle Call RFP’s have made it more difficult to identify a nightmare prospect. Many agencies see only the revenue opportunity and overlook or ignore the signs.

“By building a graceful exit into the process, you can protect your most important client – you.”

Bob Sanders President, Sanders Consulting Group

To keep a prospect from becoming a nightmare client, you must be extremely clear on what you need from the prospect at each step. You must communicate as often and as tactfully as possible. Communicating these success factors up front is the most effective use of your time early in a relationship. It’s important to have a detailed contract covering issues that might lead to problems and exactly how payment will be handled if things do not work out.

If you think you have an ad agency nightmare prospect, or you’re dealing with a nightmare client, give me a call and let’s talk about it! We can help. Just reach out to [email protected]

21 ways to say “no” to a prospect or client:

Laura Spencer, a freelance writer from Texas, wrote up a great list that I have to mention here. I encourage you to head over and read her advice.