PR Insider: Five Ways to Lose a Client…and Win Them Back

Miller_JimDoes this sound familiar? You’re riding high with a client you’ve nurtured for years when, seemingly without warning, the relationship begins to sour. At the first sign of danger you retrench, then reinvent, but the dominoes keep tumbling until, before you know it, you’ve lost them. What happened?

Clients come and go, and it doesn’t help to dwell on losses, but analyzing how a loss occurred can help you avoid future missteps. Or at least ensure you won’t lose a client the same way twice. Here are five mistakes that are sure to take you down the dangerous path to a client loss:

1.     Let it slide. When a single client verges on eating up all of your attention, it’s tempting to sacrifice time spent on other clients to focus exclusively on them. You tell yourself you’ll make up for it next month. Don’t.

2.     Insist on your way. When you’re really passionate about an idea, your enthusiasm can overwhelm your ability to listen, even when the client clearly has something else in mind. There’s a fine line between passion and pigheadedness. Cross it at your peril.

3.     Stick with last year’s strategy. When things are going well with a long-term client, complacency can set in. You think, why mess with what’s working? Keep innovating or risk being dropped for a more up-to-the-minute agency.

4.     Let them see you sweat. In the heat of a high-pressure event that’s not going 100% according to plan, it’s easy to let the mask slip. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that clients enjoy seeing you sweat. Stay cool and collected at all times.

5.     Keep asking for fee increases. Is the justification for raising your fees simply that it’s an annual increase? Come up with a stronger rationale or don’t be surprised if the client walks.

Even if you avoid all of these mistakes and consistently do great work, clients sometimes go away. It might be due to a change in leadership, budget cuts or some other factor that’s beyond your control. It’s usually best to cut your losses and move on. But what if you felt you had a shot, however remote, at winning them back? How would you go about it?

A few years ago I found myself in this situation when a beloved education client decided to switch agencies. While accepting that it might never happen, I resolved to at least lay the groundwork for a possible reunion. Two years later, they came back. Here are five things we did that I believe made a difference:

1.     Part on good terms. We were careful to make a graceful exit, thanking the client, wishing them well, and working to ensure a smooth transition for their new agency. We had nothing to gain by being a sore loser.

2.     Up your game. We doubled down and made a full-on effort to improve our capabilities, enhance our knowledge base, and grow our clientele in education. We wanted to be sure that if the opportunity for a second chance came along we could say with confidence we were stronger than before.

3.     Stay in touch. I kept in touch by occasionally emailing news stories of interest, congratulating them on awards and promotions, and—sparingly—sharing updates on our success. Most importantly, I visited their annual event each year, not to disparage their new agency or pitch my own, but to show my continued interest in their organization and its mission. They noticed.

4.     Build positive word of mouth. We maintained good relationships with other organizations that continued to partner with our former client. When we won a project with one of these partners, our old client took note.

5.     Do good work. Ultimately, what we did after our client left was less important than what we had already done before. When the client put their account back into review two years later, they remembered our good work and invited us to participate.

It’s no fun to lose business, and it’s no good spinning your wheels trying to win back every lost client. But if there’s a silver lining when a client says goodbye, it’s the chance to reassess, make adjustments, and build yourself back to better than before.

How about you? Ever lost a client and won them back?

Jim Miller is president of Momentum Communications Group, specializing in education and nonprofit communications. You can email him at Follow Jim: @javmiller.