What to do When Your Clients Disappear
Recently, I have encountered an unexpected spate of established, solid client relationships that simply vanished in thin air. Retirements, changes in title or budget, or shifting priorities have led to a number of longstanding, strong client relationships to go up in smoke. Rather than basing my work schedule on a predictable stream that I built over time with these clients, I have been forced to act quickly to develop new relationships and rebuild my base.
Unfortunately, no one is immune to sudden, impactful changes to their clients or their clients’ needs. Despite many years of exemplary service, market, company or personal factors can force service providers and sellers to have to start again.
Here are some strategies that can help preempt such change and minimize its impact.
Always be in client creation mode – Regardless of how many clients you have in the bag, it’s imperative to continually create new ones. This is true even if you’re at capacity and can’t seem to find time to make new connections, let alone serve them. Make the time to regularly connect with new people, at conferences, online, or one on one, even if it means hiring someone to do some of your own work. Then, find ways to keep them in the window of engagement, such as adding them to a waiting list and an email list. Regularly check in on them and add value to the relationship.
Never get complacent – It’s easy to shift into cruise control when things are going well, especially if our clients are “rock-solid”, such as decades or even centuries-old enterprises or heirs to multi-generational estates. No client relationship lasts forever. See: Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns.
Think about who the successor may be – Very often, a new boss is promoted from within an organization or firm. As you work with your current client, think about who his/her successor may be and seek to develop strong relationships with them.
Ask to meet the successor as soon as possible – If you know that your client is retiring or moving on, ask to be introduced to the successor as soon as he/she has been identified. A warm introduction from your current client will not guarantee that the new boss will use you, but it certainly makes the prospect likelier.
Leave lots of evidence of your contributions – The more that a new person can see tangible evidence of your past contributions (ideally with your company name on it), the better.
Develop new offerings and value-adds – As industries and technologies change, the need for your service may change as well. For example, investment professionals have a harder time justifying their fees in an age when (1) anyone can execute stock trades and (2) the market remains strong. In that case, it may be useful to offer other services that add value to the relationship.
Learn new skills – In some cases, you simply can no longer do as you’ve always done if you want to keep clients. They are looking for the latest and greatest and if you can’t offer that you will likely be overlooked. Continually seek to add more knowledge and skills, by attending classes, reading, watching videos and consuming audio content (books, podcasts, etc.)
Remind them of the value-add – While we may see our value as obvious, not everyone does. The more that you can demonstrate things such as money saved or earned, workforce satisfaction increased, or some other positive metric, the better. Find ways to do so in a manner that is confident yet subdued.