How To Decline a New Client: 5 Ways to Politely Avoid Problematic Clients

Samir Sampat

In business, you aren’t going to get along with everyone. You’re also not going to take every job or client offered because there will surely be the occasional bad fit from time to time. It’s going to be important for you to learn all of the professional manners, including how to politely and eloquently decline a new client if you don’t feel like they’re the right fit for you or vice versa. Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true tips out there that can help you move through problematic clients or clients who just don’t mesh with your vision and organization. 

There are several ways to approach this situation, but the most important thing is that you do approach it before it becomes a big issue. The last thing that you want is to take on a client because you feel guilty saying no, only to have them expecting you at their beck and call every single day—you’re running a business, not catering to individuals. Regardless of the issues that may be present, here are five ways to decline a client without rocking the boat (too much). 

1. Be polite, but direct

Don’t beat around the bush or start with one of those “Hey, listen…” stories. People today appreciate honesty and directness. Make sure that you’re upfront and simply state your case. You don’t owe them anything more than a “Sorry, I can’t help you,” but if you feel the need to explain, keep it simple and focused. It doesn’t feel good to get shot down, but when it’s done respectfully and honestly like this, it’s much more appreciated than when someone beats around the bush. 

Don’t be rude or standoffish. There’s a difference between being direct and being downright unprofessional. Make sure that you’re polite, use kind words, and speak warmly. If you go into the conversation with a cold tone and negative demeanor, that’s going to get noticed and cause people to respond in kind. This leads to conflict that is really unnecessary in almost every case. 

2. Have an alternative solution ready

Rejection often feels better when there’s another solution ready and waiting. For example, if you have a relationship with another company that might better serve the client’s needs, you could lead into that and then explain why it’s better than working with your firm or being your client. People are less likely to be put off when you show that you do want to help them, just not by having them as a client. 

3. State facts, not opinions 

This is an important part of the discussion. It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t matter how you feel. All the client cares about is why you won’t (or can’t) work with them. Make sure that you have clear facts to present and that you can lay out the reasons why this isn’t a good partnership. This isn’t the time for you to get out your soapbox and start talking about all the ways this client could be wrong for you (or vice versa). It’s time to let people know what’s going on, factually, not emotionally. 

At best, you’ll tarnish your reputation and get a little more emotionally involved than you might like. At worst, you could easily let your emotions goad the candidate or potential client into their own emotional outbursts, creating a giant conflict that wasn’t necessary and could have been avoided. Stick to the facts and if you don’t have any, find some before you get to the rejection part of the relationship. 

4. Use the right communication method 

It can be hard to turn people down. However, you shouldn’t shy away from taking the time to respond to them in the same manner in which they reached out to you. Many companies luck out today because people email and text like it’s their job—therefore an email or text stating that this relationship just isn’t going to happen might not be that off-putting. However, if a client took the time to call you or visit in person, you should return the favor when declining the relationship. 

More importantly, perhaps, is that you shouldn’t ghost anyone. It’s hard to hear rejection, but it’s even worse to be left hanging. Plus, it can tarnish your reputation if people start talking about how you “turn down” clients by just ghosting them. 

5. Be prompt 

No one likes waiting forever to get a response these days. Right now, especially, response times are more important than ever. Even if you are declining a client (or perhaps especially if you’re declining), you should let them know as soon as possible. After all, it shouldn’t take you weeks to mull over a client request—they’ll know you’re stalling for time or just not in any hurry to get back to them—and that costs you valuable reputation points. The sooner they know, the sooner they can move on to finding another company to fill their needs. And, the sooner you can move on without the stress of what happens after the rejection. 

When comes to client communications, who do you turn to?

Are you taking care of all your own client contacts? Do you have a system in place, like a 24/7 answering service that can ensure that you never miss an opportunity? When you partner with the virtual receptionists at Smith.ai, you’ll be able to trust that every call is answered, and that’s just the beginning. We can also help with appointment scheduling and lead intake, streamlining your operations in more ways than you think. 

If you’re still working on the marketing aspect, ask about how our teams can help with outreach campaigns, outbound sales support, and so much more. And as always, your solutions will include a custom-tailored strategy to ensure that we don’t miss a single detail. 

To learn more, schedule a consultation to discuss what the 24/7 virtual receptionists at Smith.ai can do for your business. You’ll also find us at hello@smith.ai

Samir Sampat

Samir Sampat is a Marketing and Events Associate with Smith.ai. He has experience working with businesses of all sizes focusing on marketing, communications, and business development.

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