13 Red Flags From Buyers Consultants Have to Be Aware Of

In retail before you get your goodies, you pay for them. In a restaurant you pay for your meal before you leave.

In almost all types of residential service businesses, you get paid right on completion of the work.

It’s consulting where it’s become customary over the years to test consultants’ patience by delaying their payments and other red flags that may come from buyers.

Some of this “red flag” behaviour is unintentional and can be corrected by drawing buyers’ attention to it. But some actions are malicious, and I believe consultants have to be aware of them or these problems can escalate to major disasters.

SO, in this article we go though a few “red flag” behaviour patterns and see how we can remedy the situation before the problem starts costing us too much either in money or stress and sanity.

So, let’s start with a far too common problem…

Red Flag #1: Buyers Expect You To Chase Them For Payments

These buyers erroneously believe that it’s your responsibility – besides rendering your services or delivering your products – to chase them for payments, and they have the right to play hide and seek with you.

Actually, in most cases it’s not real buyers but purchasing departments.

This is why I believe it’s vital to get a significant down payment on your projects at commencement.

When you render your consulting services, get 50% down payment before starting the project, and get the remaining 50% no later than half-way through the engagement. If you have a six-month project, get the second 50% 30-60 days after commencement. It’s vital that buyers have a serious skin in the deal, so they don’t jump on to other initiatives and leaving you high and dry.

And what to do when buyers expect you to chase them? Tell them you’re taking the matter to collections, which also means the credit bureau is notified, and there will be repercussions for buyers regarding their credits.

However, it’s usually purchasing agents that expect you to chase them. True buyers are usually honest, and they play the game of business above table. And no CEO stands by and watches while the purchasing agent tarnishes the company’s credit rating.

Red Flag #2: Buyers Keep Threatening You With Legal Action Unless You Dance To The Beat Of Their Drums

The good news is that this specific problem usually shows up at the beginning of the relationship. It’s also very often a bluff.

As the saying goes, the dog that barks doesn’t bite. Nevertheless, the relentless barking can be tiring on the ears, so the best bet is to get rid of these barking clients. Well, the same applies to biting clients too.

A few years ago, four months in the project, a client unexpectedly demanded me to write a brand new business plan or he would get his “lawyers involved”. I encouraged him to do that and showed our agreement, with a clear scope, to his lawyer. He backed off. I gave him a partial refund, and fired him.

Yes, I lost a client, but kept my sanity, and that can be important too, considering that being in my late 40s’ I’m probably senile enough already as part of the ageing process.

Red Flag #3: Buyers Frequently Miss, Cancel Or Reschedule Your Meetings

This behaviour can be a double-edged sword. It either shows that buyers have no respect for your time, but are very carefully guarding their own. Or as a result of some recent development in their companies, clients have become scattered, and just can’t focus as well as they normally do. Here you can help them to get back on track.

In this case I tell clients about my observation of behaviour change, and try to talk them through the situation.

I also even suggest that we suspend the project for a few weeks if necessary. But since clients have already made the investment, they don’t want to call a time-out, so they get back on track and move on.

And most clients appreciate that I bring up their scattered states and haphazard behaviours because they impact all areas of their lives.

But if it goes on and I get stood up again, then I cancel the engagement, and move on.

No, you don’t have to return your fees because buyers have made a contract with you to receive your services, and they’ve failed to do so.

So, strictly speaking, they’ve walked away from the project not you, and you can’t justify financing other people’s whimsical decisions.

Red Flag #4: Buyers Expect You To Pick Up Their Slack

Some clients may take vacations in the middle of projects, resulting in a similar email or phone message…

“I am on vacation in the next two weeks, and this is what I want you to do by the time I return.”

Some others take on other initiatives that require their full attention.

The funny thing is that when you indicate to your clients that you go on vacation for two weeks, these same people get outraged and demand their money back because how dare you to leave them high and dry.

I believe your work is not about doing things FOR people but helping them to do it for themselves. At least to a certain extent.

The way I see it is that a nutritionist can give you advice on weight loss, can help you to create a weight loss plan and can coach you to execute the plan, but clients can’t expect the nutritionist to go on a diet and then pass weight loss back to their clients.

Similarly, you’re a consultant, and for quick and effective completion, it’s in your clients’ best interest to help you with the donkey work.

Clients must implement their own plans under your care, protection and guidance. You can’t do it FOR them. Only WITH them.

Red Flag #5: Buyers Expect You To Go The “Extra Mile”, But They Are Not Willing To Offer The “Extra Dollar” For It

Some clients cite rubbish like “the customer is always right”, “you should bend over backwards to serve your clients”, “The customer is number one”, etc.

In my experience, this happens to clients who want to squeeze more out of their consultants than they paid for.

A few years ago I heard a business guru say that we should become slaves to our clients. Hm.

It’s like going to a car dealership and demanding that they offer you a free driving course just because you’ve bought one of their cars, thus you’ve already paid for it.

I’m not even sold on the traditional under-promise and over-deliver concept. I prefer to keep the promise and the delivery in sync with the payment.

If you under-promise and get paid for a Chevrolet, but over-deliver, and your client gets a Mercedes, next time he will expect you to deliver a Ferrari at a Chevrolet price. No way, baby.

Red Flag #6: Buyers Are Extremely Tight-Lipped About Finances

We can’t negotiate engagements without talking about money. The money buyers expect to make by seizing an opportunity or save by solving a problem and the money they have to invest to achieve their objectives.

Often when you ask about the budget buyers have allocated to your projects, they brush off your question and say…

“Just submit your proposal and we’ll find the necessary money.”

Don’t believe that, honey. It hardly ever happens. In my experience, those buyers who are tight-lipped about budgets are having money-problems. Have you noticed when you ask people how much they make, those who make good money and enjoy their work, don’t mind talking about money? And those who struggle from hand to mouth month after month, dodge the issue and give you some feeble excuse to talk about, like the weather or the football results?

It’s also a good idea to get a sense of the budget even before you meet. You can tell prospects…

“Other clients in search of similar results have invested $xyz. Is your company able to handle an investment of that magnitude to achieve similar results?”

By the time you meet a buyer, you must have an honest discussion between peers. If the buyer is still playing his pitiful “control” game, and tries to treat you as his minion, a supplicant, a subordinate, then you’d better leave.

Red Flag #7: Buyers Try To Rush You Into Submitting Proposals Without Giving You Enough Information To Be Able To Write One

Has it ever happened to you? A buyer shows up out of nowhere as says to you that he needs this project very urgently and that you have to move very fast. So, he tries to cut the pre-proposal discussion short and rushes you into submitting a proposal as a mere formality.

Then after you’ve submitted the proposal, the buyer vanishes. You try email, telephone, snail mail and even smoke signals, but the buyer is gone. Most of these rushed buyers are gone forever.


They just don’t have the guts to tell you that they needed your proposal as a way of generating ideas for the internal folks to implement whatever the buyer wanted to hire you for.

How can you recognise them in advance?

Well, just like governments, they demand very detailed proposals with every little step clearly explained.

Then, after collecting enough “new ideas”, the internal people start dissecting the proposals. But this approach usually fails.

It fails because the internal people know the “How to…?” but don’t know the “What” and “Why?”

As Sun Tzu put it in the Art Of War…

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

So, what to do when buyers try to rush you?

Just explain to them that, unlike them, you’ve done this many times before, and there is a reason why you do it the way you do it. And if they don’t have two brain cells to rub together to comprehend that you’re an expert in this area, and maybe you know what you’re doing, then it’s time to move on to greener pastures where buyers come with more brain.

Red Flag #8: Buyers Expect You To Be Available Even While You Are On Vacation

Yes, sometimes engagements are so long that you take a vacation in the middle of it, and some clients may get outraged by it.

In my experience, people often get angry when people do to them what they always do. People who regularly take phone calls and check their emails during in-person meetings get very angry when others do the same thing to them.

And who gets angry about your vacation plans? Buyers who’ve just come back from long vacations and are about to go again.

Good clients know that you have to recharge your batteries, and for them it’s more important that you show up in good condition than merely showing up and putting in the hours.

Red Flag #9: Buyers Are Picking Your Brain For Free Information, And Then Demand You To Either Lower Your Prices Or They Go To A Cheaper Provider

This is a typical problem when you get your engagements through bidding wars. I participated in one many years ago, and pledged never to do it again.

I don’t mind sharing my knowledge, but sharing it knowing that everything I say will be used against me is not my cup of tea.

I think every engagement can be started on a small scale that is easy to agree to.

If you have a buyer, representing a $100 million a year company, and he has a problem to start a small $25,000 project to diagnose the situation, then there is a serious problem. This company probably wastes 100s of thousands of dollars, so if your $25,000 fee is a problem, then someone is not playing nice.

Also, often buyers take your proposals and tell you that another company is offering the same services at a lower price.

Very often, there is no other company, but they try to trick you into dropping your fees. If you were out of their price range, they wouldn’t even be talking to you.

Red Flag #10: Buyers Are Always Hyper-Busy And In Constant Rush

Have you come across clients who are always in a terrible rush and are constantly interrupted when you try to connect with them?

You know the ones that answer emails and phone calls while you’re trying to explain something to them?

My view is that it’s not the lack of time but the lack of overall organisation that puts them into this permanently rushed mode. You can’t do business with losers. Ditch them.

Red Flag #11: Buyers Communicate In One-Word Sentences

Imagine that you send well-written letters or emails to prospects or clients, and all their responses contain is one-word sentences, like fine, sure, ok, hm, well, all right and similar.

To me it’s an indication that the issue that we’re discussing is not worth proper communication.

I like giving people the benefit of a doubt, but I’ve also learnt a few lessons in life, and this one-word communication is one of the hard-learnt lessons.

Red Flag #12: Buyers Are Too Agreeable

Don’t believe this. Excessive initial compliance can turn nasty later in the middle of the project.

Consulting is about collaboration, and collaboration is about pushing back. When buyer say…

“You’re the expert. Whatever you say is fine for us.”

Then you may have some trouble ahead. Collaboration is vital because while you know consulting, buyers know their businesses.

I think this is why it’s important to push back right from the beginning to test how “pushable” buyers are. This is also an ego check. Buyers who can keep their egos at bay can be respectfully pushed because they know in their best interest.

Red Flag #13: Buyers Are Emotionally Involved With You

That is, they are your close friends and relatives. Unless you are extra careful, this can be very messy because emotions can take over the relationship.

Friends and relatives can be the worst at recognising your value.

They know you from the time when you worked at McDonald’s, and don’t always realise that it was 30 years ago during high school holidays, and since then you’ve left McDonald’s permanently and you are now an expert in a different area.

A client-consultant relationship is supposed to be objective as much as possible. This is why pay for performance is retarded for consulting work. Not to mention that the consultant is just cog in the wheel and has no decision-making power.

Sometimes I offer my thoughts on some business issues to friends but I would never accept full-blown consulting engagements with them. I know myself, and I know that my emotions could get in the way. So, I avoid the temptation.

On Summary

I believe being in business has the great advantage over employment is that we can select who we want to do business with, and we don’t have to accept proverbial latrine duty with jerks because the boss says so.

And if we think certain buyers are not appropriate for us, either because their projects look boring or the people involved are not nice, we just have to courteously reject them as clients.

And this requires that you have a Perfect Client profile, and your firm sales lead qualification system is based on this Perfect Client profile.

In this profile you determine:
1) the perfect buyer, that is, the person who you interact with,
2) the perfect client company and
3) the perfect engagement.

Then you can put this profile on your website under something like “We do our best work with…” Yes, you scare some buyers off, but buyers can qualify/disqualify themselves, so you don’t have to do it manually with every single buyer.

Yes, running a consulting business is partly about making money, but I think we also have to enjoy the process and the people we work with, otherwise work becomes drudgery.

So, look at your buyers and see whether you really want to carry on working with them or you’d better refer them to the competition. The competition will love you for it and so will your spouse and children.