It’s the third time in a week that I’ve been asked: “How do I know when to stop chasing a potential client?” It’s easier to tell than you think.

1. Listen To Your Gut.
The right clients value the work you do. They get it. They understand what you do, why it’s important to their firm, and they’re ready to commit. If you’re trying to talk yourself into why a client would be good for your business, just stop.

2. Check Your Ego.
A competitive spirit and tenacity are what make you a successful leader. Cultivating a healthy sales pipeline takes a different approach: the willingness to let go. If you think you’re fighting too hard to keep a potential client in your pipeline, you are.

3. Experience Counts.
When you realize a new client is not a good fit for your business, check your rearview mirror. Make a note of the red flags you saw, so that next time, you can screen them out. Some common red flags:

  • Highly disorganized clients won’t be able to give you the information you need to do your work well.
  • Those who don’t respond when contacted three times just aren’t ready. Ask if they’d rather you stopped following up.
  • Those who want to meet more than twice before signing a contract typically aren’t serious.
  • A client who nitpicks your well-written contract will either micromanage your work or be too scared to start. No trust = not a good fit.
  • Those who demand a discount upfront either can’t pay or don’t value your work. Walk away.
  • An excessively long sales process most often signals dysfunction or poor decision-making. Get out now.
  • Those who appear needy will be much too expensive to serve. Run.

For us, if a potential client asks to see the breadth of our design portfolio or the wide range of content we’ve written, we politely refuse. While this may sound unusual (why not just show them our work?), after eleven years in business, we know that our best clients understand that it all starts with strategy.

Every business will have a different set of red flags, and different values for the number of meetings before signing and the length of the sales cycle. Most important is to know yours so that you can get the less-than-ideal clients out of your business development pipeline to make room for the best clients for your business.