Last week I detailed how a toxic client can damage your practice.  While I’ll agree United Airlines should have handled their recent passenger altercation differently, the reality is that three other passengers gave up their seat with no incident.

My selling system, which I learned from Steve Lewit, is all about addressing potential client issues in the very first meeting.  Never ignore what could be a problem later.

One of the biggest problems is the affluent prospect who you can tell in the first 15 minutes is either an irrational thinker or a total jerk.

Of course, intuition can be wrong.  Everyone is entitled to a bad day.  Don’t ignore what concerns you, but confirm it’s legitimate.

Let’s begin with the irrational thinker.

Prospect:  My returns were low last year.

Me:  Well, it was a difficult year.

Prospect:  Not when I look at what tech stocks did.

Me:  So, you want a portfolio heavy in tech stocks?

Prospect:  No. But I think a good advisor has a good idea when to make moves from one asset class to another.

Me:  Interesting.  How would they do that?

Prospect:  I don’t know.  Isn’t that what you do?

Me:  Before I answer that, can I ask you something?  Do you believe news is unpredictable?

Prospect:  Of course.

Me:  I agree.  Do you also agree that investment markets react to news?

Prospect:  Yes.

Me:  So if news is unpredictable and markets react to news, isn’t it true then that markets are unpredictable.

Prospect:  Hmm.  So what about the guy who is heavy in tech stocks when they soar.  Would you just call him lucky?

Me:  What do you think?

Prospect:  I guess you’re right.

The prospect could just as easily have said he did believe markets are predictable (many have).

Me:  Can I be candid?  I don’t think you need my help.  I don’t believe stocks can be successfully picked or markets can be successfully timed.  Or if they can, I certainly don’t know how to do it. 

Then there’s the personality conflict.  In years passed, I would allow myself to be confrontational.  I’m not proud to admit I actually kicked a few prospects out of my office in years past.

Thanks in large part to Steve’s training, my approach now is a bit more tempered.

Me:  John, I’m sensing there’s a little tension going on here.  Did I do something wrong?

Perhaps the prospect will apologize, explaining he’s had a bad day.  Or perhaps he’ll become even more argumentative, confirming my suspicion.

While it’s never easy to pass on a prospective client (especially a large one), fees are meaningless when you have a client who makes you regret the day you offered your services.  You and the client are both entitled to a pleasant working experience.  Remember that.