Know When to Fold ‘Em: The Pitch Process Tells You a Lot about Prospective Clients

When you’re a small or solo professional services firm, it seems next to impossible to walk away from a new business opportunity. But one of the worst marketing decisions you can make is to see clear warning signs during the pitching process, then continuing to pursue the opportunity anyway.

I recently came across a cautionary post by Drew Kerr relating his experience with and reflections on walking into — and quickly away from — clear red flags. He’d been invited to give a new business presentation by the executive assistant to a prospective client’s COO, only to discover when he arrived at the meeting that the assistant — not the COO — was running the search.  Correctly, in my opinion, he immediately wrote off that opportunity because it telegraphed the low priority and low regard executive management had for public relations.

Little did I know that a few days later I’d be having a similar experience. I was contacted by the representative of a law firm seeking business development support, only to find out he was a third-party consultant who had no experience with — or even a working knowledge of — how legal services are marketed and contracted.

Striving mightily to remain responsive and courteous, I couldn’t get off the phone fast enough.

Last year a mid-sized law firm contacted me to give a capabilities presentation. Shortly after I began my pitch it became clear that instead of discussing how my firm was uniquely capable of making them more successful, I was being used by the junior partner who requested the meeting to persuade the managing partner that the firm actually needed external marketing support. In other words, there wasn’t even business to be had.

Granted, one’s tolerance for BS is directly proportional with the size of the opportunity (i.e. you put up with more nonsense from a prospective “whale” than from a minnow with delusions of whale-ness), but generally speaking it’s both reasonable and prudent to expect prospective clients to make a good first impression, too.



  1. Good stuff! Many times we have that “fool’s gold” gaze in our eyes when that really “big” new client comes up and find ourselves investing way too much time and effort into getting that which was never there!

    • shatterboxvox says:

      Thanks Shawn.

      When time is your raw material, you need to have the discipline to use it judiciously, and the resilience and agility to quickly learn, adapt and move on.

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