When the client’s name popped up on my ringing phone, so did the dread inside me. Normally I love all my clients, but every once in a while one simply wore me out with their needs and issues. “Oh no,” I thought. This one exhausted me, and I knew I had to do something about it.
Today I am thankful for experiences like these, because I learned how to use compassion and honesty to fire a client. These three questions helped me gain clarity apart from my personal feelings and set up an optimal outcome for these types of difficult conversations.
These are especially important for young managers who aspire to greater authority. Prepare because you face the likelihood of having to fire a client. The following three questions will help you frame that decision and your strategy.
1. Is this person better than their problems?
No matter what line of business you are in, people hire you because you solve a problem. Athletes hired me as a sports agent to maximize their income and platform, and to stand beside them through a very unique window of time in their lives.
To do my job, I needed my clients to be better than their problems. The truth is, I needed to like them, understand them, and know I could add value in order for the relationship to work. Those things make the potential “problems” worthwhile. You’ve probably been there before with a client—anything from late night phone calls to constant requests to neediness and big egos. If I knew we were aligned everywhere else, I could get past these (at times) challenges.
But when I determined that a client was not better than their problems, it was time to let go. Probably past time, actually.
2. What’s at risk for firing this client aka letting this relationship go?
Firing a client can seem like such a relief because it means you can say yes to other opportunities. Before you close the door, block off time to assess all the consequences, especially apart from the financial implications.
Reflect on the relationship and how it has evolved over time. Are there other clients or stakeholders who will be affected by letting this person go? How can that be managed?
3. Who could help them better?
Firing a client isn’t the end for them and their problems, and you never know if your paths may cross again. This is where compassion and tact especially come in to preserve the relationship instead of burning bridges.
Here’s an example of a soft landing. With one client whose calls I dreaded, I scheduled a lunch and talked about the future. It was clear that this person had bigger expectations than what I thought the market would deliver, and thus I wouldn’t be able to make them happen.
“I think you think there is someone that can do this better?” I asked. “And if you believe that, go for it.” I wanted them to feel “safe” going another direction. To feel like it was their idea even. “We can stay connected and I will support you along the way in any way possible, but right now maybe a change of direction is best for you.”
When an alternative is presented like this, the client sees the end of the relationship as their idea. That’s a lot better for their ego, and that means you are a lot more likely to part ways without hard feelings or collateral damage.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
So start with this, what client makes you cringe when they call you, and why?
No one ever said firing a client is easy. This tough decision can be exactly the right one, too. Simplify it by first using these questions to become clear on your why and how. You will have a better chance of a positive outcome and a win-win.
Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Her new book, Fearless At Work, is now available. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.