Eight Reasons Why You Lose Clients – And What To Do About It (Part II)

By Andrew Sobel

Sometimes client relationships end for appropriate reasons. But you never want a good relationship to end avoidably.

In Part I of this article I described four of the eight most common reasons why client relationships end. These were:

1. A reorganization or executive turnover

2. A one-off or temporary need for your services.

3. A financial crisis or profit squeeze—and a lack of budget for you.

4. The impact and benefits of your work is not compelling

(Note: You can read Part I here if you missed it)

Now, let’s look at four more important reasons why one of your best clients may just walk away.

wilted plant


I’ve numbered these next four as 5 through 8.

5. Quality or delivery issues

This is a bigger problem in some markets than others. The more moving parts there are to your solution, and the more technology is involved, the greater the chance of a quality failure.

Remember that “quality” is a function of three things:

First, actual quality. Have you provided—by objective standards—a truly high-quality service or product?

Second, expected quality. You can do a great job but have a very disappointed client if your solution does not meet their expectations, no matter how unreasonable you think they are.

Third, perceived quality. Why do people think the relatively unappetizing Patagonian Toothfish (well, at least to my taste!) is wonderful? Because restaurants call it Chilean Sea Bass and dress it up with all sorts of fancy cooking methods, sauces, and side dishes.

To help bolster your client’s verdict on the quality of your work, think about these strategies:

1. Put real, meaningful quality control mechanisms into place. These can include different levels of controls—for example, at the relationship manager level as well as at the senior management level. Ask your team members what they think. Get formal client feedback several times a year.

2. Carefully agree expectations at the beginning of a project or engagement. Focus on agreeing outcomes and objectives, not deliverables. A deliverable is a quarterly meeting, whereas an outcome is improved response times when customers call.

3. Enhance your client’s perception of the quality and effectiveness of your work. One good way to do this is to create transparency around your process, so that your client sees all of your hard work and effort. A second way is to share the difficulty of what you’re doing—in other words, make sure your client understands the challenges you’ve overcome to deliver for them and the special requirements of the engagement. A third approach is to ensure your client gets positive feedback from their employees. This may not happen naturally. If someone tells you how helpful you or your firm have been, ask them (humbly) to share that comment with their boss.

6. Poor personal chemistry

Likeability is one of the four key qualities that nearly all client executives seek in a vendor or service provider (the other three are delivery, trust, and value). I’ve heard this over and over again. One of my own clients, for example, fired a very smart and experienced consultant because he was arrogant and condescending with everyone below the c-suite.

If you work with a firm, you have the possible option of bringing in a new relationship manager or account executive when a lack of personal chemistry threatens the relationship. But why wait until that happens? You can enhance personal chemistry through some very simple steps. Sometimes, a relationship that starts off on the wrong foot can thrive when one side makes some sensible adjustments to their behavior. For example:

    • Are you being a good listener? Do you listen carefully, affirm, and ask thoughtful follow-up questions?
    • Have you shown your immediate, work-with client that you can be trusted to support them and their goals—as opposed to politicking and going behind their back to their boss?
    • Have you taken the time to understand how your client would like to structure and manage the relationship and how they like to communicate?

7. A decline in trust

To understand how this can happen, let’s first reexamine what builds trust with clients. Very simply, professional trust is based on:

1. Competence: You have to consistently deliver against expectations

2. Integrity: You have to demonstrate honesty but also reliability, consistency, and discretion.

3. Perception of intent, or agenda focus: You have to show you are deeply concerned about your client’s agenda, not yours—that you’re looking out for their interests at all times.

Several other factors influence a client’s willingness to trust. These include their perception of the risk of trusting you, and the amount of face time they’ve had with you. You rarely trust someone you haven’t spent time with!

Usually, I think a decline in trust is precipitated by a feeling that you no longer care as much as you used to and the work you’re doing is not as sharp as it was.

Part of the solution to this is to schedule a regular “agenda setting” conversation that is focused on the client’s overall business and on how the relationship is doing rather than a project update.

8. Complacency

This is probably the reason many relationships end—professional and personal. One side takes the other for granted. Or, both simply stop caring the way they did at the beginning of the relationship.

At a broader level, complacency is the enemy of the successful professional. You enjoy your work, you have good clients, and you make good money. So why try harder? It happens all the time. You stop pushing, and you start—well, coasting. When that happens it’s time to shake yourself up.

Each year, look at your client list. Ask yourself these questions:

    • Which clients keep you up at night, and which ones get you up in the morning because you’re excited about the work?
    • Which clients are at risk of leaving you for some of the eight reasons outlined in this article?
    • Do you have a valuable client towards whom you are getting complacent? Why is that happening?
    • What would a competitor do to go after your clients and take some of their business away from you?
    • This year, are you taking your practice to the next level—or at least, markedly improving it in several respects? What’s your plan to do that?

In conclusion: Be intentional about holding on to those client relationships that provide strong mutual benefit and which are engaging and motivating for you.

Keep in mind these eight reasons why clients can leave. Sometimes it’s inevitable that a relationship ends, but there’s a lot you can do to counter each of these challenges:

1. A reorganization or executive turnover
2. A one-off or temporary need for your services.
3. A financial crisis or profit squeeze—and a lack of budget for you.
4. The impact and benefits of your work is not compelling
5. Quality or delivery issues
6. Poor personal chemistry
7. A decline in trust
8. Complacency

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