Not all client relationships are worth your time. Look for these warning signs to identify a toxic business relationship.

Staff Writer

Not all client-consultant relationships are equal. Like a good marriage, both parties must be capable and willing to work together. Listening respectfully to one another is key to success, as is being able to perform at the highest potential capacity on the scope of work without adding unnecessary obstacles. Being able to accept and capitalize on ongoing feedback is also a two-way street.

Just as some people are not ready for a mature relationship, some people in professional settings lack the skills and disposition needed to extract maximum value from working with growth consultants.

Here are some sure signs that a client may not be right for you:

1. They make demands of your time without regard to your schedule.

2. Everything seems urgent and critical, but yet no real traction has been achieved on their end. Even a planning call gets mired in internal political intrigues for them.

3. The primary client contact shows up late to a kick off meeting, and then fixates on a minor point that is not on the agreed-upon agenda.

4. There seems to be little to no alignment on the agreed contract and scope of work, even after these artifacts have been vetted, sweated over, revised, and signed off upon. Everything is subject to change at a whim.

5. The legal department shows up at the meeting and accuses you of a lack of ethics because of your field (we have seen this happen in market research, innovation, and sales strategy consulting assignments).

6. The original scope gets whittled down to an incremental rather than a transformational scope, as a “quick win and urgent need, as a way to salvage the project.”

7. A few long-timers from the company stay after the intense meeting to describe the crux of the matter, explaining how the company is not sincerely interested in moving into the segment of the business for which you have been hired to provide insights. In fact, they share, many have lost their career trying.

8. When the person that hired you looks up after getting IMs and texts and says “this is bad, really bad, I don’t know if I want to work for a company where there is so much finger pointing.”

9. When all parties in the meeting refuse to present material that was gathered to aid your project–and this internal Tower of Babel badly needs explaining. The meeting was called to hear the presentations.

After spending 40+ hours in the contracting process and then invest 20+ hours reviewing materials and preparing for meeting, one and a half days of travel time (day rates), rental car, airport parking, hotel, and meals, you become hyper vigilant to such signs.

When you look up and find yourself elated to see the Exit sign, listen to yourself. Get out of there.