The Importance of Picking a “Great” Client


As a Search Consultant, your success is largely dependent upon the quality of your clients. Contrary to popular belief, any “paying customer” isn’t necessarily a client worthy of partnering with. Anyone who has been in the business a while learns this lesson, usually the hard way. We’ve all accepted searches from clients only to later regret it. What is the key to avoiding this regret? The key to avoiding the heartache is being honest about it and thinking about all parties, including the person you intend to move to this new company. You have to be honest with yourself first and foremost and not play games. Sadly, many people lie to themselves and convince themselves that everything is copacetic, later to face the reality that they ignored obvious signs that they should have let it pass. I have justified it to myself by using the old phrase, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The reality is that I put myself into a terrible position to attract someone to a company that is not well regarded usually for good reasons. A “greater fear” casts out a “lesser fear” and the fear of financial hardship can tempt us to accept a search with a bad client. Unfortunately, this usually ends badly for all parties. If you accept a search knowing that the company’s value proposition stinks, inevitably, you are going to be very sorry!

Nothing is worth accepting a bad search and getting stuck with a “dud” of a client. If a company isn’t in a position to attract the caliber of talent that they want and are convinced they can hire, you are putting yourself in an un-winnable position. By accepting this search, knowing that the company has a poor reputation or during the exploration phase you find that the person to whom the new hire will report, is not a good person, you have put yourself in a classic conflict of interests. You are about to take someone out of a good job and put them in a bad situation. They will not love your for that, and why should they? You will have put your own needs before theirs, which is a misuse of your responsibility. Not only is there a very high probability that the candidate will back out late in the game, if they do accept it, and later regret it, you will develop a reputation as someone who doesn’t care about the people you place. Furthermore, you may have to replace him or her when they quit. Trying to recruit another candidate of equal caliber to replace them knowing that there is a problem within the company is a misuse of your power and something I hope you will never do. How do you think that will affect your reputation in the marketplace? Will you be seen as an opportunist who doesn’t care about the people you place?

It is critical that you select a great client so that your career is one that you can be proud of. To do this, you must make sure you diligently vet your potential client beyond their “willingness” to pay your retainer. Take time to get to know this potential new client and their team. Investigate their products or services and honestly evaluate their “Value Proposition” and the “draw” that brings with it. If you believe in the people and the opportunity, and you have confidence that you will be doing someone a favor by extracting them out of their current job, and placing them there, go for it!

If not, walk away and don’t look back.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Picking a “Great” Client

  1. My own rule of thumb is that if they’ll put some cash up front (almost any amount) then they’re probably a good client. They are motivated to get the job done right, rather than get the job done cheap.

    • Martin, Thanks for your perspective. You are not alone, but that is exactly my point. Just because they are willing to pay a retainer does not mean they are the right client to partner with. Maybe you haven’t been in the situation to be retained by a bad client that has a poor reputation and you go on to learn this during your search. What do you do if you find out that you are doing a search for an unscrupulous company with a horrible boss?

      My perspective is that we must vet these companies before we sign up to be an accomplice in their shenanigans.

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