I wanted to share a case study all about exiting clients.
I think most of us as at some point in our business lives have experienced a situation where working with a particular client ceased to be as much fun as working with others.
Most of us might also admit to having had a client decide not to continue being a client for what we believed to be the wrong reasons.
Even the most pragmatic of us might also admit that it’s hard to have it happen without experiencing some sort of emotional impact.
Maybe the more experienced of you have learned to brush it off as just “one of those things“, but at some level, I feel we can all identify with having indulged in some level of self-questioning, self-doubt, and maybe even a teeny-tiny amount of resentment in certain cases.
Maybe even the odd (internalised) f-you moments even?
As a business coach, I try to view certain things with an unemotional tinge.
To some degree, I see it as my job to do so. That’s not to say that certain situations don’t annoy me, frustrate me, or even make me question what the hell people might be thinking. It’s more that when it comes to other people’s businesses, I see it is my role to view things through as few lenses as possible.
Which is why when it comes to exiting clients, I believe strongly in what I call the red carpet exit.
The basic idea behind this is to make your exiting clients’ last experience of working with you as pleasant an experience as it can be.
Why? Well, in short, because for businesses who implement this approach to exiting, it’s not unusual for around 40 to 50% of exited clients to circle back again in the future, seeking to re-engage (usually because they realise the grass isn’t greener, and they’re smart enough to realise that not correcting a known error is the same as making the same error twice).
It’s even seen businesses I’ve worked with generate referrals from clients who have ceased to become clients.
I’ve always enjoyed these kind of “awkward” conversations.
I can’t recall whether it was Tony Robbins’ comment: “Your success in business can be attributed to the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re comfortable having”, or I was inspired by Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations book, but I made a decision a long time ago that I want to be a coach who was comfortable playing in spaces that others find awkward and uncomfortable.
I wanted to have the ability to talk directly about topics that could easily result in negative impacts unless handled with skill.
Conversations with people who aren’t doing what they said they would, deeply believe they are not the cause or that others are, situations of conflict where there is no best outcome for everyone, and times when you simply need to tell people what they need to know as best you can deliver it.
I imagine you have plenty of these kinds of conversations with prospects and clients.
Conversations about misaligned expectations. Conversations about value. Conversations about cost and price. Conversations to challenge people’s innate biases and poorly informed choices. Conversations with underperforming team members. Conversations where you sometimes find out you were wrong all along, or you were right all along but it makes no difference and you have to swallow it anyway.
This particular case study was about a client who had been working with their adviser for around 10 years.
The adviser, being a damned good one, had delivered significant value through advice that was both comprehensive and truly holistic.
During that ten-year period, the progress was transformational. The client, now an older lady, had gone from being what you’d kindly call “mildly well-off” to being truly wealthy. Total and enduring financial freedom was just over the horizon.
The only issue was the practice’s fee model hadn’t kept pace and, for all this value that had been created, the client was paying a fee that, when we unpacked the pricing, showed her to be definitively sub-profitable (and damned close to unprofitable).
At Review, a transition conversation was had. Like most fee transition conversations where there is value in the relationship, it was a non-issue.
Then, a week later something changed. The client gave notice.
In the coaching session I had with the adviser in question, I could see that there was an emotional impact.
It was hardly surprising. Ten years of outstanding advice resulting in outstanding outcomes, and here was a client indicating they wanted to look elsewhere.
I did what coaches do, and sought to understand what the data might suggest had actually happened.
Sure enough, what began as a hunch soon became the most likely explanation for the sudden change in attitude.
There was an unknown third party involved in the situation.
In this case, it was most likely a family member in the background.
Someone who had not been involved in the relationship to date. Someone who was unable to see (or understand) the results that had been achieved during that ten year period. Someone who didn’t understand what the strategies involved were designed to achieve. Someone who may have had no experience with financial advice, but looked at a dollar figure on a page and decided, on behalf of their parent, that it was too much to pay and there were probably better options elsewhere.
Enter the Red Carpet Exit.
Sure, the case was put forward as to why they shouldn’t and the client was reminded of what they would be choosing to walk away from, but we chose not to make this an argument, and more a statement of fact.
Instead of taking it personally, we laid out in clear terms what that decision meant in terms of the advice to date, management of financial affairs, what they were now responsible for, and what might be required if the decision were to be reversed in future (all new advice).
Instead of chasing, we stepped back knowing that in most cases once a decision is made, chasing rarely results in anything other than reduced communication and pulling further away. It’s hard to change an oppositional mind.
Instead of being economic with information, we laid out clearly what they would need to do, how to access information, and offered to assist as needed to help them to find a new adviser.
We also knew that when it comes to an experience, most people remember two things – the beginning (which is why your First 90 Days is so important) and the end. So we intentionally made the end of this relationship the classiest, most professional and most pleasant experience we could.
Sure enough, about four months passed before the email came through.
Invariably, the client had gone out, possibly seen other advisers and realised they would still need to pay for new advice, probably assessed other opportunities and seen nothing markedly better, and definitely realised there was no guarantee that the other options would work better than their previous solution.
The tone was different. They better understood the value of what they had. They were ready to accept the fee they were being asked to pay was in fact fair value. The third party was no longer involved in the adviser to client relationship. They understood they would need to pay a fee for new advice. They were (finally) fully onboard.
Sure enough, the client transitioned across and the business now had a really great client.
I want to share this because when I was a bit younger and coaching clients would leave, I’d get upset about it.
I’ve since learned that the best response when someone makes the decision to exit – whether you agree with it, whether it’s a bad decision, whether it’s based on incomplete information or whether you just know that there are other people in the sales process – is to roll out the red carpet, give the best possible exit and make them their experience memorably and unexpectedly easy and pleasant.
When combined with a similar red carpet beginning, you have the framework for a lasting memory of a positive experience that will endure and pay dividends from the most unexpected places.
Related: Is Practice Benchmarking Useful?