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5 Ways to Lose an Account


In this article:
Faking it: No posers allowed 
Know your limits 
Honesty is always the best policy 
Embrace Change 
Never be Passive 

Let me count the ways? Oh wait, that would take forever. How about five ways that seem to plague the status of accounts on a daily basis? Some are within all of our control and others take teamwork to truly lose the account.

Since most relationships start with a sale, so will we. Our best foot forward sometimes causes a stumble. If we survive the fall, we can always look forward to drunk employees, managers who think they can cover up mistakes, rationalizing white lies as a foundation for a long term relationship and last, but not least, the old ignore it and it will go away motto. The truth is: it will go away.

Assuming we don’t want to lose our accounts, let’s work hard to do better from the start. Here are five ways to stay out of the resignation game.

Next: Faking it: No posers allowed

Return to Introduction

It still needs to be said. Do not sell into an account what you cannot or have no way to deliver. If you are a technology company, then be the best damn tech company out there. Never let your servers go down, invent the paradigm shift for goodness sake, but do not change who you are to win the business.

Remember you hired your sales guy or gal because she was good. Make sure she is selling what you can deliver. It's not good to toast that great new account just to find out that you (the tech co) now need to make a microsite with brand research ready to go. (Oh, and don't forget that contest.)

The best way to avoid this fate is to first and foremost know what you are selling and why? Yes, why. I find most sales that lead to unhappy accounts come from sales teams that only know what they are selling and have no understanding of why. Without the latter, our best and most aggressive teams will eventually sell beyond the company's capabilities in an effort to either please the client or win the business.

I mean, when in the throes of a pitch, what's a microsite -- we do technology -- how hard can a "small" site be? If that same person knew that you are a tech company because you have years of experience -- not just building advertising technology -- but also that your engineers and your vision is to lead reliability with your pending patent on load balancing, you might then start to think "Hey, a microsite isn't a good idea and might divert us and our resources away from what we do."

Your sales team isn't just there to sell what you gave them. They are your front line. They can provide very valuable feedback back into the business.

Next: Know your limits

Return to Faking it: No posers allowed

Yes, I mean alcohol. How often are we at conferences, dinners, after work drinks, et cetera with clients? A lot. But as buddy buddy as you think you are with your long term clients, trust me, they are not your college buddy, your best friend, or your parent for that matter. You are still representing your employer and your relationship is still based in the professional world. If you can stay up until all hours and still make the meeting in the morning with all your faculties, then rock on.

However, you are no friend to your account if you show up dragging, nursing a cup of coffee, and talking about how you really hope the Pedialyte works soon when your client is hoping for great ideas and frankly, what they pay for: service.

Applying a sense of reason to socializing with clients is prudent. It's always a benefit to get your client out of the daily service grind. Just make sure you don't push you or your client beyond his limits. Trust me, it's just as bad for business if he pukes on your shoes as it is if you puke on his.

Embarrassment does not endear professional relationships. I have also seen accounts shifted and people fired for unruly behavior. It's true, not all of your clients want to go to the strip bar.

Next: Honesty is always the best policy

Return to Know your limits

You will mess up. Do not, I repeat, do not hope they don't find out. This is a Darwinian sign if you think that's a good strategy. Time and time again, people think they can cover up their mistakes and that no one will know. Did that work in the past?

I think the Brady Bunch made that clear with the broken vase show. When in doubt, think about Peter Brady waiting for the water to pour out of the cracks in the vase until it broke.

That's what will happen to your account: it will start leaking through the cracks until it's gone.

I can honestly say that business relationships can be made much stronger by admitting your errors. No one hired you because you were perfect. However, they did hire you to be a partner.

Now let me temper this with what a mistake really means. Do not call your client with problems or issues. These are not mistakes. These are yours to resolve. A mistake for a client is a deliverable that could no longer be met, either by error of judgment or resource. Step up and let them know. You will not be in any more trouble than you would have been and you may have the opportunity to strengthen your relationship by adding trust to the value proposition. And as we all know, trust is earned in business, so start now.

Next: Embrace change

Return to Honesty is always the best policy

You will be faced with lots of it. Your main client may leave. Your key account person may leave. Through the life of any account, change will abound. You need to see change as a part of business, not a threat to it. If you recognize change as part of your day, then you don't need to have a panic attack when employees resign.

Blood pressure medicine or a keen knowledge of breathing into a bag should not be part of your day … but change should be.

Should you have a change in staff or resources, make sure you tell your client quickly. All they want to know is 1) that you told them (instead of finding it out, again, the trust problem) and 2) that you are managing your resources on their behalf and you know what the plan is.

By the way, if you don’t know what the plan is right off, still call.

You must be the one to share change with them. "I was about to call you" does not work, ever. Second to that poor choice is "Oh, I was going to call, but it’s not that big of a deal. Sorry." Yeah, that doesn’t work either.

Next: Never be passive

Return to Embrace change

Clients want an active relationship. Heck, they are paying you! It should go without saying that you should be constantly working on meaningful ways to actively engage your client. For instance, outside of your deliverable and status meetings, you should be providing ongoing insight within your area of expertise, being a constant resource, and proactively thinking about their business and objectives.

What makes clients crazy, and eventually have them dining with your competitors' sales folks, is a passive relationship. Many of our clients may already have that in their own work environment; they don't need another one. 

Passive is defined as "That which is not active." How's that for being passive? Kind of pisses you off that they tell you what it's not. But this is exactly what creates a slow death for an account. Always be an active partner.

I know you can manage these somewhat obvious tips and probably have a bunch of your own. Do tell. Comment and let us know some other great ways to avoid the call or email that starts with "I'm sorry to inform you …"

Return to Introduction

Kate Thorp is CEO of Real Girls Media Network. Read full bio.

Pioneering. Crusading. Building something from nothing. That's what fuels the original Real Girl, Kate. Whether it's signing on with a nascent publisher called CNET, starting one of the first interactive ad agencies or masterminding a media network...

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