Every quarter is a good time to evaluate potential new business opportunities and, sometimes, to leave behind old ones. You have likely parted ways with a client before, and how you did it is most likely what they remember most about you. How you say goodbye could affect future hellos in the industry.
Companies may think that selling themselves to get business is the most important part of the job. And it is an aspect, but not the only thing to focus on in regard to client relations.
Where good business practices truly come into play is how you handle a “break up” with a client. Whatever the reason—unmanageable expectations, different values, out growing one another—it’s never a good idea to ruin the history you’ve shared and the good work you’ve done for them with a bitter ending.
Only the peaks and the ending are remembered by a person according to Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences, who studies judgment and decision-making. A sour goodbye isn’t only measured in the lost work from the client you’re leaving–it could mean that important introductions in the future never get made, and that some prospects never give you a chance based on what they’ve heard.
Parting ways may be the best thing for both of you at that time, but, in the heat of the moment, it is easy to not consider the prospect of working with them again in the future. There is nothing wrong with expressing to the client that you would like to keep in touch. This is especially important if you work in B2B, a more close-knit structure than B2C.
If you have hit a wall or breaking point with a client, there are two scenarios to consider:
If it is the client’s idea, determine whether the problem can be fixed. Is it a strategy problem or a personnel issue? If the relationship can’t be salvaged in this moment, do not push them. Client praise and referrals are a great source of new business. Leaving a bad taste upon exiting the relationship could have the opposite effect.
If the split is your agency’s idea, do not spring the news on them. The exit meeting should not be the client’s first indication that something is wrong. You work in communications, after all. You should be able to verbalize when things go awry with effectiveness and tact throughout the process of working together.
If you find yourself about to say goodbye, remember this quote: “People will forget what you did, but they never forget how you made them feel.”
Tony DeFazio is an accomplished public relations professional and entrepreneur who has led three agencies. He bootstrapped his first business, growing it through the Great Recession to achieve an exit. He excels at developing narratives and delivering them with resonance and impact to influencers and media around the world. DeFazio is a respected thought leader who has served in leadership positions of industry associations, and was elected President of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Philadelphia Chapter and Heritage Region Board of Directors, representing 17 states in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West.