How to Come Back from Losing an Important Client

December 26, 2016

How to Come Back from Losing an Important Client

In my experience as both a sales expert and advisor, I have found time and again that losing a client is the greatest fear in the sales world. While client loss is a valid concern, salespeople could benefit from a shift in perspective. Instead of focusing on fear, it’s important to understand why client loss happens and what you can do to prevent it.

I’ll begin with a story. When salesEQUITY was just starting out, we had a large client in the technology space. We worked diligently to deliver exactly what was expected and more – or so we thought. Unfortunately, we spent all of our time focused on delivering our service, and almost no time on managing the relationship to ensuring our client (and their internal clients) actually understood and appreciated the value we created.

One day, this client called to say they were not going to renew. When we asked why, they were unable to give us a concrete reason, saying instead that someone else had made the decision.

In hindsight, after doing our "won-loss" analysis, we realized that this situation was months in the making. We had been so busy doing the work that we forgot to make sure our client was receiving value. It was a tough lesson to learn, but it has shaped how we approach all our client relationships since. We now strive to earn a position as a “Trusted Advisor,” instead of a “Transactional Vendor.”

Why Clients Leave

Clients leave for all sorts of reasons. While product or service failure, or a breach of trust or contract can occasionally lead to client loss, these situations are typically in the minority. Most companies deliver a fine product or service, and are well meaning, hardworking suppliers. When clients leave, it is usually due to the provider not managing the relationship

There are four relationship dimensions that when not sufficiently addressed will cause the client look for another vendor:

  1. Recognition:  The client feels that you take them and their business for granted, that you treat them like a number.
  2. Proactivity: The client feels like they are driving the relationship, not you, and they feel a bit uneasy about everything being covered and handled appropriately. 
  3. Savvy: The client feels you don’t understand them, their business, or how they “win”.
  4. Chemistry: The client finds communication and interactions with you just too hard, too uncomfortable.

These four dimensions are critical for satisfying your client, and more importantly, for motivating them to expand their business and engage with you long-term.

Retaining and Expanding Client Relationships Long-Term

Retaining and expanding a client relationship requires that you both create and communicate value. If you create value, but your client (or the right people within the client’s organization) don’t understand it, you get no points. You can go home and feel good about doing your job, but the reality is that you’re – at best – a Transactional Vendor. Likewise, if you communicate things that don’t create value in the mind of your client, you’ll come across as arrogant, boastful and out of touch with their needs. This can also negatively impact the relationship.

Losing a big client can have a significant effect on your business, your team and your own self-confidence. Set yourself up for success by practicing the four dimensions above, and communicating the value you create. If a client leaves, take time for some candid self-reflection. Did you actually underperform, or were you focused on satisfying a client, rather than motivating them to stay? Learn from the experience and move forward to be a true, Trusted Advisor for your clients.

Tom Cates is founder, chief client officer, and chief storyteller of salesEQUITYFollow him on Twitter: @salesEQUITY