June 4, 2008

2 Min Read
What to Do When A Customer Wants to Fire You

By Mitch York 1

So, one of your long-established clients calls up and says she’s been told by another business partner that your prices are too high. She wants to meet soon to discuss the future of the relationship. Here’s how to regain your composure and prepare for the meeting to come.

Hey, It’s Good She Called! She could have just fired you and given her business to someone else. But instead she called and asked for a meeting. That means she acknowledges the investment you both have in the relationship and understands there is a cost to switching vendors.

Keep the Paper in the Briefcase: While it’s fine to have research and reports ready to go for the meeting, my advice is to keep your ammo off the table unless she asks specific questions that can be answered by your documentation. What she really wants is to talk and be listened to. Which leads to the next suggestion.

Ask Lots of Open-Ended Questions: Don’t ask, “Are you happy/unhappy with the service we’ve been providing?” A better question is, “Tell me how you feel about the service we’ve been providing. Where have we been the most on target with your needs? Where can we improve?”

Listen, and Listen Good: Really hear what your customer has to say. Rephrase and repeat back the most important points to make sure you heard it right.

Stop Caring So Much about the Outcome: You know what’s really unattractive? When you plead to keep someone’s business because they’re a really important customer. When you offer to do anything it takes. Reduce prices? No problem! Better payment terms? OK! Can I do your grocery shopping and wash your car, too? If you are less attached to the outcome of this one meeting and more secure in yourself, you are so much more attractive and more likely to have the result you want and deserve.

Focus on the Relationship: If you have been listening to your customer all along, if you have been true to your business values and those of your customer, if you focus on building the integrity of the relationship—you will keep the business. If you don’t keep it, something fundamental was out of alignment and you can learn from it.

Learn to Lose Gracefully and Come Back Another Day: When you go down swinging, learn how to be a graceful loser. Yeah, it’s okay to lose sometimes. In fact losing can be good for the soul. Just don’t tell my former employers I said that—not much tolerance in corporate America for people who tolerate losing! But you are an entrepreneur, so reality doesn’t bother you. We’ll keep this our little secret.

Contributing blogger Mitch York is a personal friend of The VAR Guy. York coaches executives who are evolving into entrepreneurs. Find York — and his personal blog — at www.e2ecoaching.com.

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