What to Do When Your Client Is Leaving

The ability to anticipate loss is a vital part of your business’s growth strategy. However, that’s just one half of the solution.

The other half involves having a skilled response to potential loss: a clear, repeatable, results-focused plan to both recognize and take action in cases where the client is still heading for the door despite you having already checked your blindspots thoroughly.

Know the signs. You need to have an early warning system—just like the one we have here at Engage for our clients—to correctly examine customer behavior and identify potential trouble.

There are five telltale signs to measure on a regular basis:

  1. Customer ordering patterns for your products or services;
  2. Annual value measured using the client’s metrics (not yours);
  3. Client support cases being opened;
  4. Inbound/outbound calls and appointments with that client registered in your CRM; and
  5. Rate of new contacts being added to your CRM for that customer.

Here’s some bad news: if you are seeing a drop in any of these areas, you need to find out why. Fast. There’s no time to spare when your client might already have their hand on the door handle, getting ready to leave.

Now for the really bad news: getting the answers you need is going to be very hard to do, because exiting customers won’t always tell you why and when they’re leaving unless you work hard and get creative. Like it or not, people don’t like having difficult conversations and avoid them if they can.

Your job—in this circumstance—is to do everything you can to make that conversation happen, because it’s the last chance you’re going to get to keep that customer.   

Call everyone.
I’m talking here about unleashing a full-on blitz campaign. Don’t make the mistake of just trying to call your best, most trusted contact in the client’s company. That call list is too small for a job this big. Your goal here is to get someone in that company to return your call so you can schedule a sit-down meeting with them. That’s it. Sometimes that means user of the product, procurement, a trust coach or even your buyer’s right hand. Don’t leave any stone unturned in your efforts.

Use your team.   
Don’t try this alone. Sales is one of several branches on your organizational chart that has regular interactions with your client. You need to get all of them on-board for this all-hands-on-deck exercise. Whether you reach out to Operations, Deliveries, Accounting or the Help Desk, those groups have just as much a stake in retaining that client as you do. Again, you’re giving them one goal: get a client meeting scheduled so your most skilled sales pros can save the account.  Of course, this also means your management. Sometimes a call “from your manager to their manager” makes a big difference in clients being responsive.

Frame properly.
With your team in place to make those outreach calls, you need to give them clear instructions on how to frame the conversation they’re going to have with the customer. Explain to them that they are not calling to ask the customer: “hey, why aren’t we hearing from you anymore?” Frame the call instead as an offer: something that’s meaningful to the client. That could include, for instance, a new training program or an insightful report on important trends in the market. The offer comes with a condition, of course: a scheduled meeting with your sales team.

Bump-up to first class.
Imagine showing up at the airport and you grumble to yourself about the unusually long wait in line for check-in. And then the airline informs you that you’ve been given a complimentary bump-up to first class on this morning’s flight. Suddenly you’re feeling pretty good about that airline, aren’t you? Think about what would be considered as a gold-star upgrade by your customer and give it to them. For instance, you could invite them to a speaking engagement or other special event. One client of mine did exactly that when they were on the brink of losing their best client. They were planning their annual user conference—jam-packed with training and demos—and invited that client to attend as a speaker with nearly all expenses paid. Not only did they save the business, they grew their customer base, too.

Showcase excellence. 
In cases where it’s less than clear that a customer is heading for the door, reach out to them and offer to feature them in a new case study. That can either take the form of an interview that you turn into a feature story that you post on your website and social media, or it can involve having them as a guest star in a video, webinar, or podcast. Just as this ubiquitous approach works wonders with prospecting, it’s a powerful magnet for client retention, too. By showcasing a customer as a mutual success story, you’re giving them the opportunity to stay invested in that story.

Revisit your black-ops.
I’ve spoken before about the importance of having a black-ops exercise within your company. Assemble your team and ask them to identify where you are vulnerable with a client. That’s not just a smart defensive move, it’s offensive as well. Here, the client is about to leave, so the stakes are much higher. So you need to make three things clear in this situation:

  1. Every idea counts because the goal is to generate them in quantity not quality;
  2. Ban the use of “should have” and “could have,” because those are blame-seeking words;
  3. You will shut up and listen to what they have to say, because you’re not there to get defensive.

Know what’s next.
Some clients leave no matter what you do. Sometimes it’s for the best, and sometimes it serves as a necessary but valuable education on the importance of client management skills. Sure, grieve the loss for a moment, but don’t waste time wallowing once they’re gone. A smart risk-mitigation plan means always knowing what happens next when the worst outcome occurs. In your case, that plan needs to have answers about how you’re going to replace that lost business. That’s why I say again and again: your pipeline is your future!

To recap: know your blindspots, anticipate loss, have a plan to prevent it from happening, and be ready to recover with resiliency. In both good times and bad, that’s the secret to how the best organizations and the best leaders in today’s marketplace keep thriving.