Monday, January 2, 2017

Planning to Officially Break up with a Client this New Year?

The New Year always bring about change, renewed resolutions and the feeling of starting over.  So
when one of my clients said his company intended to break up with a challenging customer, I incredulously balked at the mere suggestion that he would no longer market to them. What was he thinking? It is one thing to break off the relationship, but quite another to stop marketing to past clients. But it did cause me to wonder. At what point is it appropriate to break up with a client and stop talking to them…forever?

No more sales letters. No more slick newsletters, email blasts or fancy event invitations. The client would no longer be privy to your creative genius or amazing sales offers. Nada. It’s over, and there’s nothing left to say.

Of course, who doesn’t re-evaluate client relations at the beginning of every year? Truth be told, I’ve had a few clients throughout the years who were such a pain to deal with that I have personally felt justified in terminating the relationships and giving them the silent treatment – sometimes not even waiting until the beginning of the year. So I understood my client’s position.

And when your company decides to sever the connection with the client from hell, usually it’s because things are dysfunctional or toxic – or worst yet, you’re losing money or your creative mojo. These are circumstances when stopping all communication is permitted. In those cases, it’s better to rip off the Band-Aid, end things abruptly, and not ever look back.

As marketers, it is important that we speak to all our stakeholders on a consistent basis. This includes prospects, past clients, end-users, vendors, suppliers, even industry influencers.  True, individual marketing campaigns require creating tailored marketing messages aimed at different audiences. But the extra effort is worth it.

But is it good business etiquette or even a smart use of time to continue to flaunt your value proposition in a customer’s face once it’s over? Well, as any woman will tell you, seeing her ex when she looks fabulous on the arm of another man, is almost euphoric. However, ultimately this little game of “see what you’re missing” does nothing for her unless she wants him back.

You’ll need to decide if you ever want to work with this particular customer again.

Conversely, at some point during our tenure, we’ve all had a client dump us. Whether we think it is warranted or not, the client simply says “no thanks” to our offer. Usually, when that happens, my first inclination is to say, goodbye, good riddance, and I’m no longer interested in a dialogue with you either. Hmph!

However, when I do that, I pass up an opportunity to analyze why things went wrong or understand where I can make improvements. More importantly, when we stop marketing to or communicating with a customer or stakeholder, we impede their path back to us. Why? Because people often have buyer’s remorse, which means it’s never over until it’s over.

Most of us have experienced buyer’s remorse, especially when it’s a costly purchase or when we have a major switch in brands. We have feelings of guilt, regret or second thoughts – all stemming from the psychology of conflicting thoughts or cognitive dissonance. If you’re like me, not only do you sometimes regret your choice, but wish you could just press the reset button and put things back the way they were.

Many clients who have “let you go” many times wish they could take you back.

In the case of ‘greener grass’ regret, you want to ensure you provide a worn brown path of return to you. Your continued communication allows past clients to save face, forgive misunderstandings, correct mistakes – and of course, it gives them time to miss you.  This path is easier for customers to find when you remain top of mind and continue to demonstrate value even when the relationship is over.

In other words, maintaining communications is important to both you and your past client.

Naturally, you don’t want to bombard a customer fresh from a break up (especially if the client feels wounded or betrayed) with a barrage of self-promoting messages. It’s probably wise to wait at least 90-days before you reach out with your first non-sales message. But without question, you should stay in touch.

Here’s how:

Start by asking for feedback – conduct a brief survey to learn more about why the relationship went south. Again, this is assuming you want to re-engage. Be sure to clearly articulate that you realize that they are no longer a client and that your communication was not sent in error, but is one of genuine curiosity.

Next, begin a specialized “woo” campaign with a series of slow, soft touches. Maybe send a copy of your newsletter, email a relevant content marketing article or link to a white paper. The point is to demonstrate your value and woo the client back with non-sales collateral.

Finally, never assume that past clients are not interested in your message or that they won’t refer business – even if it appears things didn’t work out between you. Let them tell you they no longer want to hear from you.

In today’s global business environment, we are all ultimately connected. Yesterday’s stakeholders (including vendors, suppliers and influencers) are tomorrow’s clients or at a minimum they can be evangelists for new business. A stakeholder who perhaps loved your service or product, but might have been overruled in an earlier decision-making process, could seek you out at a later time. Your name could come up in an entirely unrelated conversation because of your holiday eCard. Or a simple social media post could be shared and seen by a potential client outside your sphere of influence.

And it goes without saying that current customers should be recommending you. If they are not, you are either not providing a strong referral channel to make it easy for them to talk about you or the client is not crazy in love with you or your service.

So in 2017, if your business is planning to break up with a client or stakeholder, remember, marketing to past customers, is smart and requires a little finesse.  Keep in mind that it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

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