The ol’ client bait and switch

Luke MysseYou know the story. You work with a great contact for years, maybe even a senior level person at the company. The two of you go together like peanut butter and jelly; you get things done and enjoy working together.

Then they get busy or the company restructures, or a third party gets involved, and you suddenly find yourself having to work with someone who quite frankly is the fish guts to your peanut butter. (I’ve never tried it. Could be good?)

And now you have a decision to make. Do you keep the client or is it time to shove off? Before you hit the road, here are some things to consider or try.

1) Give it time.
First impressions aren’t always spot on. You and this new fish guts person might find your working groove over time. It’s common for a new person to be territorial on arrival. They could just be trying to prove themselves to the senior level bigwig that appointed them in the first place. Commit to working with the new contact for a certain period of time before giving up and leaving them for the birds.

2) Talk it through.
If things are not jelling, it might be wise to request a meeting. Come to the table with some of your concerns about the change, but do it without attacking the newbie. Be prepared for that conversation and have their needs in mind. If you can articulate that you have their best interest in mind, that you are a professional, and that you simply want space to do your best work, it might defuse the situation and get everyone on the same page. Doing this in person is best if possible. A conference call could also work. But never try to talk it through via email unless you don’t care about the relationship and potential harm to your reputation.

3) Transition away.
If you can’t make it work and ol’ fish guts just keeps making life hell, well, it may be time to let that client go. The key here is to bow out gracefully and not burn any bridges along the way. You never know where your work soul mate could end up. Maybe one day, they will move on and you will work together again. I’ve sat down with a contact before letting them know that things just aren’t working out only to be asked back after the new person was let go. If the relationship is good and you really do work together well, that will win out in the end.

And remember, before you let any client go, always be sure you have something else lined up. Or at least know the effect it will have on your cash flow. If you really dislike working with someone, prove it by finding a replacement client.

How would you handle a peanut butter and fish guts client relationship? And have you, peanut butter, ever lost your jelly client contact only to find them again later?

BTW: For more from the King of Client Relations, check out Luke’s session at CFC 2010: Who’s the Boss?

One thought on “The ol’ client bait and switch

  1. Laurel Black

    Hi Luke –
    Great read! (And BTW, I enjoyed your talk at CFC.) Yes, I too have had jelly clients drift off, whether for budget reasons, a preference for another contractor, or just life stuff. Most have come back, some don’t. I’m philosophical up to a point, but right now, not so much as I’m facing the possibility that it’s happening again. It’s exactly as you describe: my previous favorite client left and was replaced with a curt do-it-yourselfer who wants to take everything in house. He will only communicate by email, so not much leverage there. I will follow your advice of wait-and-see/don’t-burn-bridges. Maybe it will turn out okay. Thanks for the insights!

    Regards, Laurel