Saturday, 26 September 2020
The Prodigal Client
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The Prodigal Client

The Prodigal Client is a common story, regardless of the trade you’re in. You might already know it by heart. Your business relationship with a client is humming along like a well-oiled machine. Established, stable, productive. Goals are met, results delivered. You think your offerings are right on point.

Then comes the call, the email, the old sit down. Your loyal customer is checking out. As much as they appreciate what you’ve accomplished together in the past, the time has come to try doing business with one your competitors.

Caught off guard, you try to find questions and assurances that would right the ship. The client is valuable, after all. But it seems the decision has already been made. When it’s over and done, you might hope you haven’t seen the last of them, but something tells you it’s going to be a long road back.

Actually, The Lost Client may be a better title for this perennial tale of business woe. After all, “prodigal” suggests a client who has abandoned stability in favor of reckless pursuits and drunken misadventures. This isn’t the case. You may be crystal clear on why your company is the better choice and a higher value—but your client sees a different picture. In his or her eyes, there is a clear advantage in leaving. In the client’s estimation, opting for the services and products of a competitor is a sound business decision.

And the client never comes back again. The end.

This story, of course, has many variables. For instance, it’s not always a surprise when clients break the news. The partnership may have been plagued with problems from the start. The work you turned out may not have been your best. But we’re not talking about those situations here. We’re assuming your performance was satisfactory, if not excellent.

Which leads us to the supreme importance of finding out why the client left.

Every company worth its salt must ask this question and scrutinize the answer. Don’t assume the client has made a reckless decision until you have make a totally honest assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses. After all, one client’s reasons for leaving may become a second client’s reasons, and maybe a third. Before you know it, the story looks less like The Prodigal and more like an exodus.

In Harvard Business terminology, you may want to conduct a SWOT test on your company. That means assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. Or invent your own acronym (it won’t be easy to find one as catchy as SWOT). The key is objective investigation. Because that investigation will reveal a clarification of your company’s value.

And if the value you offer is truly strong (innovation, precision, global expertise, high success rates), if you’re setting a benchmark in service, if you’re an authority in your field who delivers results that count—then one of these prodigal clients will eventually return. Why? Because their reasons for leaving were more “exploratory” than anything. “Drunken” is definitely an exaggeration. But perhaps they just needed to clarify where the value really was. And when they truly tested the value of a competitor, your value became stronger. In no small part because you strengthened that value and then clarified its nature for others to see and understand.

When one client returns, others may feel greater license to follow. Thus the tale of the Prodigal Client may find a happy ending. The moral is that when a client leaves, it’s a chance to strengthen and clarify your values as a company—the superior value that you offer. The end-value that you offer to the client makes the greatest amount of sense, both economically and ethically. It is the most intelligent solution. But how do you make that truer? And when it is true, how do you communicate it clearly? The best stories always leave you with something to think about.

This article originally appeared on



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