The Client Breakup: Ending a Business Relationship

Aug 14th, 2017 Business Development

Like any failed relationship, a dysfunctional arrangement begins when both parties are wearing their rose colored glasses. Everyone is on their best behavior. Even when slip ups occur, the benefit of the doubt is always provided. Things start off with the best of intentions when suddenly the things that you’d once given a pass to bug you to death. Much the same is true in a failed business relationship. In some instances, it’s better to call it- cut your losses and move on. Easier said than done.

How and when do you decide to terminate a business relationship?

Specifically, how do you make that call if you’re the one providing the service? When do YOU fire YOUR client?

Friction occurs when expectations aren’t met. Excessive friction equates to failure. I HATE FAILURE! Having said that, if failure is inevitable- embrace the opportunity to learn from it. I’m not in the business of killing off business. I love growth. I love the pursuit of growth and I love the challenge that organizations face as they grow. Yet, for the good of your business (think: employee happiness and bottom line) sometimes it’s better to move on. Taking a short-term loss can outweigh long-term detriment. Remember: you teach people how to treat you! If you’re feeling taken advantage of, it’s a result of one of two things. One, you’ve allowed that precedent to be set. Or, this person/organization is in the habit of this practice and it’s going to be tough to course correct.

Make no mistake, when business to business relationships fail it’s often because expectations go unchecked. Even more often than not, disappointment could have been avoided. Many times it’s because the relationship started off on the wrong foot.

In order to best set you and your teammates up for success, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there any red flags? If so, have you really addressed them?
  • Is this person/organization committed to the process? You can’t do it alone.
  • Have you rehearsed the protocol for what happens when and if something goes wrong?
  • Are they a good fit long-term?

These are seemingly basic criteria. However, if you’re getting to the core of these issues and overcoming these obstacles it takes time. Worry not! It’s time well spent. Let it be known that even if you’ve checked off these major markers, you could still find yourself in a less than productive B2B relationship. Circumstances change. People, by nature, change their behavior based on those circumstances.

These are the deal breakers.

If you’re experiencing this with a current client, it’s time to have a respectful conversation about going your separate ways.

  • You’ve given more than you’re getting and they just keep taking.
    The time and energy that you invest in a client should be proportionately rewarded. Remember: value isn’t just about money, it’s also about how important you or your solution is to your client. Giving on a few points here and there out of good faith is fine, but if getting without giving becomes an expectation - you’ve created a monster.
  • You’re regarded as a vendor, not a partner.
    When the mood of a conversation shifts from respected consultant to an order-taker… beware, because the spark of chemistry has faded. This sort of interaction means that you’re not on even footing. In a successful business relationship, both parties are proportionately winning. In this new dynamic, you’re at a disadvantage to lose, as you no longer have the relationship.
  • They’re not holding up their end of the deal.
    In our world, we’re heavily reliant on the client. They know their businesses inside and out, yet we’re expected to design, speak and create on their behalf. Many times our success is tied to the effort that they were able to dedicate. When we enter into a partnership agreement with a client, they are equally as responsible for their own success and our productivity. When we spend more time chasing down a client and their assets than we do actually working on furthering the business, we know we’re in a lose, lose situation.

While these (and others) may be deal breakers for you and your organization, it’s still incredibly delicate to communicate.

Here are a few 'break-up' tips:

  • Be respectful. It’s not every day that the person PAYING is the one getting the axe.
  • Be clear. You don’t need to overstate your justifications, but explain how your decision will impact them.
  • Offer an alternative solution or recommendation. You know your world better than your client. You are intimately familiar with their needs. If possible, set them up for success.

Most importantly, people may not always remember the details, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. 


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