5 Negotiation skills to manage difficult clients

While many negotiations go very smoothly on both sides, it’s inevitable that at some point in your career, you’ll be forced to deal with your fair share of difficult clients.

Sales negotiation seminars and other negotiation workshops are effective ways of learning new skills, but there are simple ways to get a better deal out of each sales negotiation.

Keep proper documentation

You never know which of your clients will become problematic later on, so it’s important to get in the habit of maintaining documents at each stage of every contract negotiation.

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This allows you to fairly and honestly work through disputes while ensuring that each side is aware of their responsibilities.

Statement of work

One of your most important documents to save as a freelancer is the Statement of Work you agree on with each of your clients.

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Without explicitly defining what is and is not part of your job description, it’s difficult to push back against a difficult client who starts to expect more and more out of you.

In order to leave room for unexpected situations beyond what’s agreed upon in the Statement of Work, you may also agree on a rate at which you’ll work on things outside of the original scope.

This process protects both sides by ensuring they have a record of the other’s agreement.

Expect on-time payment

Workers in traditional office settings wouldn’t accept late, missing, or partial payments, and there’s no reason freelancers should have to either.

Many freelancers have difficulties dealing with flaky clients, and there are some simple ways to ensure you’re getting compensated for your work.

Freelancers with more experience know how important it is to get at least some payment in advance. Depending on the contract, you may also negotiate payment at specific, defined points in the project.

Respect your side of the contract

This may go without saying, but you’re much less likely to run into issues with your clients if you take proactive steps to satisfy your responsibilities.

Train your clients through leading by example: quickly responding to questions, respecting deadlines, and communicating regularly.

Take care of small issues early

Major problems with a client could often have been prevented simply by raising them earlier in the contract rather than letting them become more serious.

Finding a mutually agreeable solution before the situation develops will avoid a minor issue becoming the cause of a larger conflict. Initiating good client management from the start will ensure a smoother relationship down the road.

Leave contracts when necessary

Backing out of a sales contract can be messy in any situation, so many freelancers understandably do everything in their power to keep a client happy.

Although it’s obviously preferable to keep each client relationship positive, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time for ending a contract with a difficult client.

If you feel that you’ve exhausted your other options, don’t be afraid to let a client know that the project isn’t working for you.

There’s no reason to devote your time and money to a contract that isn’t providing you with any value, not to mention the stress of maintaining a relationship that isn’t going well.

Sales negotiation trainers recommend regularly evaluating each client account, to ensure that each client still provides enough value to service.

If a client isn’t ordering enough, but still expects discounts and a high service level, then you should consider renegotiating your relationship or letting this client go.

In a professional, but relatively short message, explain that you’re planning to end the contract and give a brief explanation of why you’re doing so.

Depending on the situation, you may also agree to continue the project for a little bit longer to give the client time to find a new freelancer.

Negative feedback and dissatisfied clients can impact your career or business significantly, so remain as professional and polite as possible.


Freelancers generally find that most of their clients are easy to work with, but there’s no way to predict when a client relationship won’t go as planned.

Applying these five sales negotiation skills will make these situations go more smoothly and help you maintain important client relationships throughout your career.

For practice in learning how to apply these negotiation skills, consider taking a negotiation seminar for sales professionals.

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