November 8, 2018 · Business

What your clients' bad behaviour means (hint: nothing)

What we make things mean.

We’re all guilty of passing quick judgement on others. We do it everyday, most often without giving it a second thought. That idiot who cut in front of you in traffic or the uncouth teen who didn’t hold the door of the café as you were trying to get in with your stroller and a myriad of kids in tow. It’s hardwired in our brains as a remnant of a time when we had to make split-second decisions that would make the difference between life and death. It worked well as a survival heuristic, but nowadays, where the most dangerous activity most of us voluntarily engage in daily is driving, very rarely any of us have to face real and unexpected danger.

What this means is that we routinely conflate behaviours with characters traits and judge people as if one of their actions was representative of their whole character. This idiot driver may demonstrably be a terrible driver, yet mean well, in which case that behaviour is only a manifestation of their lack of technical skills and not of their moral disposition. That uncouth teen might have been going through his first break-up and be heartbroken, thus completely oblivious to your struggles as a parent with children running around you in circles.

The same goes for your clients. It is common to hear people being classified as either “good” or “bad” clients, because they engage in one type of behaviour or another. Some client is slow to pay their bills, while another is very curt when we speak to them on the phone. We’ve all had to deal with those. But what we often fail to recognize is that what we construe as a qualitative behaviour, is just a behaviour without a moral value attached to it. It’s how we react to these behaviours that makes us perceive them as being somewhere on the spectrum of bad to good, when they’re inherently neither.

If there is no bad or good client, then why do I have to deal with all these annoying behaviours?

Finding suitable clients is a bit like the courting process, you have to go through this little dance to understand if you’re a good fit for one another. There are people out there who get married on a whim and similarly there are businesses who are willing to take on any and every client without qualifying them, but it doesn’t mean that this is a good idea.

The things that are widely accepted to make a marriage work, also work with the other types of relationships. Things like honesty, respect, communication and the ability to tackle problems head-on help make these professional relationships work. That means you have to become good at knowing what you want, communicating it and vet your clients to ensure that they represent a high-probability of turning into a fruitful relationship.It starts with working out your positioning in the marketplace. What do you do? Who do you do it for? And what do you offer that nobody else does? If you do not know the answer to one or more of these questions, there is work to be done and that’s probably a good idea for you to explore this aspect of your business. With clarity of expertise and positioning, comes the confidence and framework to identify which clients are suitable for you. The more precise you can be, the more refined will be your vetting process, because you’ll learn to ask unexpected and tough questions while expecting certain answers that are indicators of a good fit.

I would even go one step further and say that working out your vision, will further help you refine your positioning and how you communicate about your business, which in turn will help attract the right clients (learn more here). A good vision is a future-oriented desired state that expresses and summarizes your values, which when clearly expressed will either turn prospects on or shoo them away, as a form of automated vetting as the people who will contact you will eventually pre-qualify themselves (a topic for a future article).

From there, you will only perceive others’ behaviours as indicators of whether a prospect / client is a good fit or not, without judgement of value, thus removing any emotional attachment to your vetting process. You client and prospect will also thank you for being so intent on delivering maximum value to them via a narrow and deep expertise. Over time, your confidence in the process will increase as you’ll realize that it works wonders at helping finding and retaining the right clients.

Arnaud Marthouret is the founder of rvltr and leads their strategy, visual communications and media efforts. He has helped numerous architects and interior designers promote themselves in their best light - pun intended - in order to help them run more effective practices and grow in a meaningful way.

If you have questions about this article or rvltr, or want to chat about your strategy and communications, you can leave a comment, share with a friend, or reach him at arnaud{at}

Now go talk about it.