Relying on one or two big clients may feel easier than hustling to build up a roster of smaller ones. However, what happens if your biggest client dumps you? Like any breakup, the end of a business relationship can sting. Even worse, it can hurt your bottom line.
We talked to business experts to hear how they bounced back from the loss of a major client and the steps you can take to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Mourn the Loss, then Move On
Losing a major client can feel like a rejection for a variety of reasons. It's hard not to take it to heart.
"Last year, I lost three big clients," says
brand marketing consultant at
a B2B marketing consulting company. "One client had retained my services for exactly10 years. The second was so lucrative, I took the loss personally. The third client was dependable and afforded me both leverage and credibility to garner new clients."
So what should your first step be in the aftermath of losing a major client?
Daffnee Cohen (@Daffneemichelle), an
online marketer and entrepreneur,
experienced the loss of one of her biggest clients last year. She recommends allowing yourself some time to process the loss, and then move on.
"Dwelling won't do anything," says Cohen. "Rather than dragging it out, give yourself a mourning period. Think about WHY you lost that client and confirm what components had to do with you."
Some clients may give you the "it's not you, it's me" speech or claim their business needs changed. No matter what they say, it probably IS you, according to
founder and chief client officer of
(@salesequity), a client engagement platform that measures B2B relationships.
"Clients leave for all sorts of reasons," says Cates. "Occasionally it is for a product or service failure, sometimes for a breach of trust or contract. However, we find these situations to be in the minority. When clients leave, it is usually because the provider is not properly managing the relationship."
Cates recommends taking a hard look at your client interactions. If you delivered as promised, did your client have unrealistic expectations? If so, strategize better ways to manage expectations in the future. For tips on managing client interactions, check out "Do You Speak Client? 3 Tips to Close the Communication Gap & Close the Sale."
"Once you've learned from the experience, it's time to try to rebuild the trust of that client (if possible), and build processes so it doesn't happen again," says Cates.
Reflect on Past Successes, and Figure Out Where You Can Improve
After you review what went wrong, take a look at what worked for you in the past to win new business.
"Think back to what it took to get that client," says
Alex Genadinik (@genadinik),
CEO and founder of
which provides business coaching through apps, books, and individual coaching. "Was it a sales tactic? Did you have a unique offering? Take a deep look inside yourself and your current business operations and ask how you and your business can be better."
That might mean brainstorming ways to improve your marketing (see "Help Your Dream Clients Find You: The Power of Online Marketing" for ideas). Or you might look at your services and see where you can add value.
"If you improve your marketing or your product quality, you can get many more clients that are as big or bigger than the one you lost," says Genadinik. "But you have to improve the quality of your own approach to take yourself and your business to the next level."
Edwards found it beneficial to push herself out of her comfort zone and go after more science and tech clients.
"I reassessed where I either had the potential to grow or where I could reinvent myself," says Edwards. "I found several new clients by tapping STEM. It was a stretch to learn the very technical aspects of STEM, but I am better for it. STEM business covered most of the income I lost."
Get Out There and Sell!
Now that you know where you fell short and how to improve, it's time to land new clients! Edwards offers some suggestions.
"Be diligent about finding low-hanging fruit with a high conversion rate," says Edwards. "Small money frequently is just as good as big money periodically. Remind your network that you are open for business. Offer purchase discounts and other buying incentives."
If selling doesn't come naturally, consider hiring a sales coach to help out. Check out our article "Tech Business Owners: When It's Time to Consider a Sales Coach" for more tips.
Once you land new clients, constantly prove your value to them. Cates warns if you don't, you run the risk of being seen as a transactional vendor, not a partner.
"The only sustainable way to create a long-term client relationship is to both create and communicate value," says Cates. "Your client engagement model must plan for both."
Losing your biggest client can be tough. But if you choose to view it as a call to arms instead of a failure, it can be the wake-up call you need to make your business better.
About the Contributors
As the chief client officer of salesEQUITY, Tom Cates oversees the development and enhancement of the company's patented approaches to predicting B2B buyer behavior. He has established a research-based approach to uncovering the true value of a client relationship. As counsel to a wide array of industries and organizations, he helps companies tackle real issues like market research, customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty, process improvement, and change management. Tom is a recognized speaker at many events each year, known for his natural storytelling that also inspires audiences to achieve better client relationships.
Daffnee Cohen is a 27-year-old entrepreneur and Floridian. She graduated from Stetson University with a degree in sociology and started her digital marketing practice a week before graduating from college. Over the years, she has worked hard to grow her practice, specializing in integrative and functional medicine marketing. She speaks often and writes about young entrepreneurship and millennial success.
Isha Edwards is an idea catalyst for individuals and organizations across 12 industries including music, media, fashion, film, academia, professional services, nonprofit, and STEM. Through EPiC Measures, Isha provides brand-driven marketing consulting and business development services. Her skills and experience in business management, business education, brand marketing, and communications consulting enables her to implement a practical, comprehensive approach to establishing, operating, and growing a business.
Alex Genadinik is a software engineer turned successful entrepreneur and business coach. He's now coached more than one thousand entrepreneurs. You can learn more about him on his website: http://www.problemio.com.