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“When is it time to break up with a difficult customer?”

The customer is not always right – something worth remembering the next time you're dealing with a particularly trying client. The trick, though, is determining whether the account is worth keeping, despite the frequent headaches. "For me, if the juice isn't worth the squeeze, it's time to cut ties," says Troy Harrison, a sales trainer and author of Sell Like You Mean It! "That means I should make enough profit on them to make dealing with them a relatively pleasurable experience."

If a client is profitable, it's usually worth discussing their concerns and trying to solve their issues. Maybe it boils down to a simple personality clash, and your perpetually problematic client would be happier working with a different member of your customer service or sales staff.

Maybe their complaints about your supposed high prices really stem from their own too-small budget. Empathy and communication are key when it comes to figuring out the core of a client's problems. Try putting yourself in their shoes, says Chris Vanderzyden, sales consultant and author of 7 Steps to Entrepreneurial Victory. "You need a clearer understanding of their challenges," she adds. For the clients with limited budgets, for example, try finding similar items at a lower price point that will meet their needs just as well. "The more creative and responsive you are to them, the less of a difficult client they'll be," she says.

When a regular customer lashes out at you, do your best to calm them down, says Ely Delaney, creator of YourMarketingUniversity.com. "Talk through whatever their issue is … [and] be as objective as you can," he adds. "Don't go on the defensive." Oftentimes, Delaney says, it's pretty easy to cool down a hotheaded client when they feel like they are being acknowledged.

There are some times, however, when empathy and communication don't work, and the prospect of potential profit isn't a big enough reward for the constant verbal abuse. "If you cringe when they call, it's time to figure out how to get rid of them," Delaney says. He has told ranting clients to "talk like a civilized human being" and hung up the phone when they continue to yell. When he's fired such customers and explained why, some have apologized and reformed. "They learned how to treat people, and we were fine," he says. Other times, though, customers who were told point blank that they'd been rude were never heard from again. Either outcome is a win, from Delaney's standpoint.

Another instance when firing a customer may be unavoidable is when their values don't line up with your own and they ask you to do something that compromises your personal ethics. Barry Maher, a business consultant and author of Filling the Glass, once divorced himself from a major corporation that had hired him as a speaker. The company's new vice president wanted Maher to deliver a message that contradicted the speeches he'd given elsewhere. "If there's a management style continuum, going from leading with a carrot to leading with a stick, his message was so far beyond stick that it bordered on thermonuclear holocaust," Maher explains.

The bottom line: Clients who disrupt the flow of business and have requirements that regularly cut into your profits need to be shown the door, says Tom Hopkins, an Arizona-based sales trainer. "You're in business to serve all of your clients well," he adds, "not just the so-called squeaky wheels." – Theresa Hegel