One of the most unpleasant situations to be in as a sales person is when the client blames you for what the client perceives to be a failure or shortcoming of your product or solution. Clients might go from being happy and reliable, to being angry and threatening to cancel their contract.
“Getting thrown under the bus” in this way by clients can be demoralizing, to say the least. You have invested many hours in building a business relationship, only to find out that the client doesn’t trust you as much as you thought.
As a vendor, we are often the easiest people to throw under the bus. We work outside the client’s organization, and so there is rarely any internal political cost to blaming the vendor when something goes wrong. Vendors are also (wrongly) seen as expendable, since the company can always go put the project out to bid and find some new vendors and solutions.
If you want to salvage the business relationship, or better yet, avoid getting thrown under the bus by a client in the first place, here are a few tips for what to do and what to avoid.
Here are a few ways to identify clients who are likely to be “bus throwers.” Often there are several of these factors in play, and the more there are, the more of a toxic mix you have:
1) Clients who are new to their positions. They might not have encountered a situation like the one they’re hiring you to help solve, or they might not have been responsible for implementing this type of solution before.
2) Clients who are new to their jobs and “in way over their heads.” If a client is inexperienced or lacking in management skills, this raises the risk that they will blame you first when things go wrong.
3) Clients who are in their jobs and “in way over their heads” and who were hired by bosses who are also “in way over their heads.” This situation multiplies the risk. Clients who feel insecure in their positions will want to make themselves look better and make their bosses look better – and they will protect their own reputations even if that means throwing you under the bus.
4) Company culture of “micro management.” If your client and your client’s company aren’t good at delegating and letting people do their jobs, this is another risk factor for an unpleasant client experience.
5) Companies in new industries where there is no previous operational or marketing path to follow. These folks are making it up as they go along. They have “great” new ideas that they ask you to execute, but any mistakes will soon become your blunders.
6) Clients who come from other industries where they have been very successful and are now taking over a new business segment and begin to apply rules that worked in their previous experience – without knowing whether the rules will work.
What happens if you get thrown under the bus by a client?
First, keep in mind that it’s not personal, it’s just business. Even though you might feel frustrated, angry, or even betrayed, try not to let your emotions get in the way.
Instead, try to salvage what you can. Find out what parts of the contract can still be upheld. Try to talk to other allies or key decision makers within the company and find out if there are other opportunities to serve other parts of the company away from your bus-throwing client.
If the business relationship cannot be saved, look to minimize the damage to your company’s reputation. Deal with the situation gracefully. Don’t give the client any ammunition to use against you by bad-mouthing you and your company in the marketplace.
Closing a sale can be tough enough, without having to worry about the deal blowing up in your face. Getting thrown under the bus by a client is never fun, and once it happens there isn’t always much you can do to minimize the damage. Instead, prevention is the best medicine. Try to avoid the clients who are most likely to throw you under the bus. Watch out for potentially toxic situations. Try to work with clients who are secure in their jobs, who are trusted by their bosses, and who communicate with candor and authenticity (without seeming to have any hidden agendas).