Business relationships

What to do when you’re about to lose a big client

- March 13, 2017 3 MIN READ

A sad truth about business is that losing clients is inevitable and client relationships will come to an end. How they end, however, is up to you.

In my last article I shared some warning signs that might indicate you’re about to lose a client.

The prospect of losing clients can be scary, trigger uncertainty and, depending on the size of the client, fear about the future. But, losing clients is also a part of doing business. We have to learn to deal with issues like this, especially as soloists.

So, what do we do if we think we’re about to lose a client?

I’ve found these five action steps help reassure me that I’ve done everything I can to bring about a positive outcome for all:

1. Don’t panic

It’s easy to let our mind get away from us when we suspect that we’re about to lose a client. But panicking might see you overcompensate, become needy or even hostile towards the client. And if those things happen, you might end up losing them when you really didn’t need to.

Instead, ensuring you deal with facts, be proactive and keep your cool.

2. Initiate a discussion as soon as possible

Now that we’ve calmed down and collected all of the facts, we need to initiate a conversation with the client. This has to be a meaningful conversation where the discussion is about the work you do and the future of the relationship.

It is very normal and entirely appropriate to have this conversation, yet many people really struggle with it.

Over the years, I’ve learned both the value and the importance of having conversations about the future of the work I’m doing with a client. This conversation usually does one of two things:

  1. It verifies the client is thinking of moving on.
  2. It reassured you that everything is fine.

Once you know which you are dealing with, you can respond appropriately.

3. Don’t get defensive

If, from #2 above, you’ve identified a problem, you now have an opportunity to do something about it. From there, hopefully the relationship can be resurrected. (Remember, clients don’t really want to move on – changing providers or suppliers for anything is painful. If you identify problem and show them you can fix it, it’s highly likely they’ll stay.)

One thing that will get in the way of them staying is if you get defensive about the problem that’s been identified. Instead, take the feedback on the chin, and show a high level of commitment to do something about it.

And, if the client is thinking about moving on for reasons that have nothing to do with your quality of work, be mature, understand that relationships change and make sure you end things on a good note.

4. Ramp up your business development

Truthfully, we should always be in business development mode. But it’s a hard thing to prioritise when we’re super-busy. When we’re on the cusp of losing a big client, however, we really need to ramp up business development activities and start looking for extra work just in case we do lose that client.

5. Learn from the experience

If you do find out that the client is planning to leave, for whatever reason, take the time to ponder the lessons you can learn from the experience.

  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What responsibility do you take for the current situation?
  • And if there was a problem identified, do you have other clients at risk because of the same issue?

The final word

If you think you have an issue with a client now, it’s important to do something about it immediately rather than sticking your head in the sand.

Get clarification on where you sit, fix any problems that can be fixed, and send the client on their way with a ‘no-hard-feelings’ handshake if they decide to move on.

Hold back from burning bridges and always leave an opportunity open for the client to come once they realise they were on to a good thing with you!

Have you ever had a client leave, and then come back to you because you handled their leaving so well?