Personal and professional relationships have quite a few similarities. A major one is that not all relationships work out. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault, and sometimes the blame quite obviously lies with one party. There are even cases when both parties have contributed to the state of the relationship and can easily agree it’s time to part ways.
Regardless of how the parting takes place, losing a big client can feel devastating. Financially speaking, it could be devastating, and the absence of the client and the revenue can have a far-reaching impact on your business.
So, how do you move past it? Let’s look at some ways to rebound after losing a big client.
1. Take a Deep Breath
Breakups tend to feel like the end of the world, but in the end, losing one client, even a big one, hopefully won’t sink your entire business. When the end of the relationship has been finalized, pause for a moment, take a breath and grieve the loss. It’s okay to do so; it’s okay to be mad, sad or anxiety-ridden.
But don’t dwell in those negative emotions. Give them space for half a day, maybe a whole day, and then get back to work. Working is really the only way you’ll ever be able to replace your lost business, and ultimately overcome the loss.
2. Conduct an Internal Postmortem Meeting
Gather all of the people who interacted with the client and talk through what happened. Depending on how big this group is, you may want to conduct these meetings in smaller groups or one-on-one. But it’s important to get everyone’s feedback, from your receptionist, who welcomed the client to the office, to the salesperson and the project manager.
The goal of this meeting is not to point fingers or place blame, although the urge to do so might be great. Make sure you state at the start that the reason you’re having this meeting is to identify the warning signs, if any, that the client wasn’t happy or something was wrong. Explain that doing so helps the organization identify problems early on that can be addressed before they happen again.
There’s also a chance that you know where the relationship went wrong, but it’s still a good idea to solicit feedback. You’ll never know the insight someone can provide that might help you to avoid a similar situation in the future. Everyone sees things differently, and it’s those unique points of view you want to capitalize on.
3. Ask the Departing Client for Feedback
Depending on how the relationship ends, this might be tough, but if possible, ask the client for reasons on why he or she is leaving. Try to dig a little bit to get past standard answers, such as cost or “our business needs have changed.”
Those reasons are perfectly valid, but anecdotally, it seems other factors contribute to a business’ decision to part ways with a vendor or agency. You want to understand as much as possible from the client’s point of view as their perception of the situation can be very different from yours or your team’s.
This is also a chance to possibly salvage the relationship. Chances are an eleventh hour save isn’t in the cards, but on the off-chance it is, pick up the phone and talk it through.
4. Share Client Feedback Strategically
If you’ve gathered feedback from the client, chances are there is some information that other team members need to know. It might be prudent to share all of the client’s feedback with everyone, or it might make more sense to strategically pick and choose who you will tell. You might also want to be selective about which pieces of information you plan to share.
If the client singles out individuals on the team that he or she felt were lacking, then you definitely want to share this feedback with the team member’s manager and the team member. This can be tricky, since no one likes to be criticized. Take some time to consider the best way to approach the situation, based on the employee’s attitude, work ethic and your company’s culture.
5. Check in With Your Other Customers
This is the time to engage with your other customers. Call them to see how they’re doing, what their current challenges are and how you can help. Don’t pick up the phone assuming you’re going to hang up with a sale; client longevity is directly proportional to the strength of the relationship.
This also gives you a chance to address any rumors or quiet any of your other clients’ fears if word has spread regarding the client that left. You don’t want it to seem as if you’re hiding or ashamed. Your business will continue and the client you’re speaking with will be a big part of that.
Lastly, if the client that left had some negative comments about an employee who also works with some of your other clients, you definitely want to check in with them. It may not be necessary to bluntly ask if the employee is doing a good job, but if you open up a dialogue, you might get feedback you weren’t expecting.
6. Up Your Company’s Profile in the Marketplace
What better way to address the loss of a client than by working to attract new ones? You can decide to increase your marketing and/or advertising efforts. You can seek out opportunities that will put you or your employees in the spotlight (e.g. speaking events or getting published in a trade journal). Or, you can make your presence known by offering weekly webinars for free.
Whatever you choose to do make sure it fits a few criteria:
- It offers value. Don’t run an ad just for the sake of running an ad. Be strategic and smart about how you spend those dollars. Similarly, if you decide to host a weekly informational webinar make sure the content is valuable to the attendees, not just a shameful plug for your company.
- It’s positive. This might seem obvious, but if the opportunity arises for you to speak on a local news program and lampoon another local business, for whatever reason, this isn’t the time. The goal is to put your organization in a better place, and that typically means positivity.
7. Remember What’s Really Important
Remedying any psychological effects of the split might actually require that you leave the office. Chances are there are things outside those four walls that bring you joy: spouses, children, pets, hobbies, friends or simply time away from the office.
Whatever it is, don’t become so consumed with the aftermath of losing a client that you lose touch with the things that make you smile. If you are positive and upbeat, that will translate to your employees and your remaining clients.
8. Conduct Your Own Deep Dive Assessment
Even after you’ve spoken with the client and your team, it’s a good idea to take an hour or two and examine what happened in detail. Pull out the client’s billable hours or projects, your correspondence with them and/or the contract. Take some time to visit their website or their Twitter feed, look for articles written by their CEO or employees and try to view it all with fresh eyes.
After really examining things, you might realize it was time for you and the client to part ways, or you might realize the two of you never really knew each other and/or understood what the client wanted or needed.
All of this data will help you to avoid situations like this in the future, and might even lead to making a decision regarding the types of clients you want to pursue. Everything evolves over time, including businesses, and what you wanted in a client three years ago, might be very different than what you want or need now. And that’s okay.
Now that you know what to do when you lose a client, it’s time to revisit how to keep your existing ones. Learn how to keep your current customers and boost revenues while doing it.