Take the money even when clients behave badly?

Lies, cancelled appointments, secret meetings, manipulation…

My clients and I have dealt with all of these in recent weeks.

Since they’re human behaviors it’s likely you’ve faced them too from time to time.

So what to do?

It’s of utmost importance that you know your values and what behaviors are the antithesis of them.

For example, honesty may be your value, and lying is simply unacceptable. When a client lies, you don’t overlook it or make excuses. You put it on the table and get to the bottom of the cause of the lie and figure out how to move forward.

Cancellations may be annoying but they don’t violate a value. You know that there are times and circumstances that cause people to cancel. If you find out that a client’s cancellations are lies, which does violate your value of honesty, then it’s the lying that you deal with, not the cancellations.

Three approaches when clients behave badly:


  • Ask “Does this behavior violate any of my and my firm’s values?”

If so, clearly name the value and the behavior or action that violates it.

A CPA firm I work with is known for its integrity. The Founder believes that his firm should explore all possible opportunities for tax savings for its clients. “Never pay a dollar more than you have to.”

And also…”Pay every dollar you do have to pay.”

Recently a client questioned one of his associates about the applicability of a deduction on his return. This deduction was not applicable in this client’s case. The CPA explained this to him carefully and clearly, citing the regulations. The client demanded that the CPA use it anyway. The CPA terminated the firm’s relationship with this client.


  • How does this behavior affect my firm’s stability and growth?

A presentation coach I support faced this question when a client of his tried to force him into taking some adverse actions using the “the client is always right” paradigm.

The presentation coach recognized that was a threat to his firm’s carefully built reputation and to future revenue.

This professional is committed to doing what is right for his clients, but not to the idea that the client is always right.

He knew that if he agreed to the client’s demands, the resulting presentation would be terrible! And after failing to win in a competitive bidding situation, the client would think “we hired X to coach us and we lost, it must be his fault.”

I advised the presentation coach to describe the pros and cons of his approach vs the client’s demands. The client would not relent. The coach terminated the engagement.


  • Manipulation is tricky because often it isn’t as immediately obvious as lying and unreasonable demands.

One of my clients, an HR solutions expert, experienced manipulation. The client was a 40-person IT services firm. Their marketing and sales teams had attracted many new clients, and they needed help reconfiguring their services delivery operations to meet client needs.

The CEO had sought my client out, and yet after they engaged, the CEO  started insisting that the HR expert do what he wanted, not what the expert knew worked best.

The CEO kept saying “people tell me” or “people say”—making it seems as if he had gotten meaningful advice and recommendations from his peers and his advisory board.

When my client asked to speak with these people, the CEO demurred, saying “they’re too busy” or “they don’t want me to use their names.”

My client gave the CEO the benefit of the doubt for a couple of weeks. But he heard the CEO use this formula in other areas. “People say this” or “the Advisory board said that.”

He saw that this was the CEO’s method for getting his own way all across the company. He manipulated everyone by pretending to have support from others when he did not. In fact, he never took advice from anyone.

This was the signal to my client that his work there was done.

But I’ll lose money if I walk away…

Yes, you will.

There’s no doubt that the fees are an attractive reason to continue to work with clients who violate your values, affect your own firm’s growth, or manipulate you.

I will never say that you should fire these clients every single time, no matter what.

This is a decision the CEO or Owner needs to make.

I will say, respect is more often than not the precursor to more revenue.

What I do strongly recommend is that you talk with a trusted outsider. This may be a friend or colleague, a consultant or expert advisor, or maybe a lawyer.

Bringing these behaviors into the light will help you know what to do.

Being the Chief Executive or Owner of a professional services firm is a challenging job in the best circumstances.

Why make it more challenging by putting up with lies, threats to growth, and manipulation?

If you need support, let me know. Either I will help you or I’ll find someone else who can. Email, or text SUPPORT to 703-801-0345


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