Driving Transactions
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Taking the Pain out of a Break-Up Jeanette owns a midsize transportation company that caters almost exclusively to corporate clientele. It’s time for Jeanette to re-up her company’s contract with one of her oldest customers. Unfortunately, the client wants to maintain the same rate and terms for a third consecutive year. When she looks at her books, Jeanette is faced with the reality that when factoring in the rise of gas prices and operating costs, she will be losing a considerable amount of money by staying with this client.

Meanwhile, across the country, Solomon is a small operator with 10 cars in his fleet. Recently, he’s experienced an upturn in work thanks to a new technology firm that has set up shop in his area. In the past, he’s received a good deal of retail work from a local wedding planner, but the steady—and lucrative—corporate trips have him considering severing ties with the often short-tempered planner and her bridezilla clients.

As crooner Neil Sedaka once sang, breaking up is hard to do. But the fact is, sometimes a relationship just runs its course, and whether it’s in romance or business, there comes a time that you have to pull the plug and move on. While severing ties with a client who’s continually late on payment or verbally abusive may come easy, it’s not always simple to break things off with someone who’s been a long-time associate—or even a friend. However, with preparation and a professional demeanor, you should be able to end a business relationship on good terms, maybe even keeping the door open for future work.

Here are some tips to make that break-up a little less painful, and will help protect your reputation in the process.

1. Be candid and open with the client, and try to work things out. It’s important that the “break-up talk” isn’t the first time your client hears that there is a problem. Reach out and discuss the issues. Before Jeanette walks away from her contract, she should detail her costs and why the current contract isn’t fiscally reasonable for the coming year. With their long relationship, the company should realize that losing a loyal resource to save a few dollars isn’t worth the time and energy to find a new—and qualified—provider. Similarly, Solomon should explain that the last-minute cancellations and threats of negative Yelp reviews by bargain-seeking bridal parties are affecting his bottom line and don’t fall within the professional path he wants his company to travel.

2. Draft a script. If you’ve met with the client, and it looks like you can’t resolve your differences, write out a script for the break-up. Even if you’re coming at the discussion with clear thinking and completely logical rationale, things might get slightly emotional, if not heated. One party (ideally, you) might be completely level-headed but the other may take offense and interrupt or get angry. Practicing your speech will not only help you sound more assured—and therefore, more professional—but also may remove the emotion and tension from the picture.

Taking the Pain out of a Break-Up 3. Give advance notice. While your natural tendency would be quickly fleeing a bad business experience, it is never a good idea to burn bridges. For long-term contract clients, give them time to find a replacement and do what you can to help with the transition. Or in a case like Solomon’s, he should give the planner a date after which he won’t accept further bookings. Make no mistake, this can be challenging, particularly if you’re leaving a situation that has become increasingly difficult or toxic, but it’s always best to take the high road.

4. Offer recommendations. Since Jeanette knows what her client expects, it’s likely that she could use that knowledge to recommend a colleague or affiliate who can fill those needs. That way, she’s not leaving the company in the lurch, as well as helping an industry friend, which may lead to affiliate work, etc.

5. Don’t completely shut the door. All industries have ups and downs, and there may be a time when your situation has changed. Or even better, your old client may have experienced growth since you parted ways—and now their pockets are deeper. Not to mention that their new, cheaper option might not be able to deliver the quality service you provided.

6. Say thank you. Even though things haven’t worked out, it’s important that you let your former associate know that you appreciate them. Once you’ve had the initial discussion about the break-up, send them a letter or email that documents your end-of-service date along with any transition plan and referral of another operator. Place emphasis on thanking them for work over the years, leaving things on a positive notewhile also offering some CYA insurance should the nature of your split be questioned down the line.

Following your break-up, it’s imperative that you remain friendly: Never speak negatively about your former client. In cases where the other party doesn’t handle it as professionally as you, avoid bringing the disagreement to social media for a prolonged online war. It doesn’t do you any good, even if you’re seemingly in the right. Attempt to engage the former associate in a one-on-one conversation to see if things can be repaired. A business break-up is rarely ever fun, but there’s no need for high school drama.    [CD0819]