The Breakup: When You Should Walk Away from Clients

By | July 31, 2012
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Moving OnClient-agency relationships are a lot like dating. In some cases, they lead to lifelong companionship. Other times, they lose their luster over time or were sour from the start. And, while agencies never want to see a client go, sometimes, it’s truly in their best interests to break it off. Below are some of the warning signs.

Leaves You the Check

Accounts that are regularly 15-days+ past due can cripple your cash flow, especially if you’re just starting out, or a small agency. Consistently late payments can also be a sign that the client is in financial trouble. Don’t be afraid to walk away from clients that constantly miss payments, or you could pay for it later—literally.

Is a Bully

You don’t want to do business with bullies—clients that are verbally abusive or use threatening language. Make sure all your clients treat you and your employees with respect, even when they disagree. Nip swearing, intimidation and vulgarity in the bud right away by addressing the issue with the client. If it continues, this is a clear reason to cut ties.

Has Unrealistic Expectations

Does the client continuously call after hours demanding work to be done “right then?” Do they email you a non-priority project and expect immediate turnaround? Do they want a significant uptick in leads, but lack the foundation to bring them in?  

These demands, unrealistic expectations and unreasonable time frames can negatively affect the client-agency relationship, and lead to unhappy clients and account teams. Put realistic expectations and objectives in place at the start of the engagement, and work with the client to achieve them. Be wary of clients that don’t respect your time, or who judge you on metrics outside your control.

Doesn’t Value You

Successful relationships are those in which both parties put the time and energy into developing them. This means that the client views you as a partner (not a vendor), appreciates your services, is responsive, and respects your employees and time. If a client consistently does not value your work or team, it may be a signal to move on.

Walk Away in (Professional) Style

I’m not advocating that you automatically cut ties if your client portrays one (or even multiple) warning signs. But, you should take a step back and evaluate the relationship.

Just like dating, open communication is key. Broach the topic with your client and attempt to work out your differences first. Explain your perspective, and give them the chance to adjust their behavior. Only walk if all other options have been exhausted.

If you need to move on, do so in a professional manner. Give your client the support they need to find another partner or bring services in-house. Don’t leave them cut and dry to figure it out on their own. Help make the transition as smooth as possible.

Also, don’t burn bridges. If you end the relationship in style, you leave the door open for future opportunities—for instance, if key contacts move to different companies or the company hires new employees (depending on which was the problem to start).

Have You Had to Break Up with a Client?

Share your stories and lessons learned in the comments section below.

Photo credit: B Rosen