I Just Lost a Client, A Love Story.
A Love Story, really?
This week I was told by a client that they would not be renewing our contract to provide sales and executive consulting services. The meeting covered all the work we had done together, the results and the fact that they wouldn’t be needing any more of my expertise, guidance or support. During our two plus-hour meeting the president of the company said she had no more use for my services and this meeting would be our last. Wow, after 16 years it ended just like that.
I cried. She cried. We hugged and said our goodbyes. And we felt great about it.
Over 16 years I lived through virtually everything with this company, all of it. The personal and the business, the family and the company, the struggles and the victories; nothing was off limits. In the world of family businesses, this was the ultimate example of a family business. I knew them all; the parents, the grandparents, the kids, their best friends and their customers and vendors. No one escaped my participation in what went on with this family and their business. The president made sure I always had the entire story without reservation. Admittedly there were times when I had to hold up my hands and cry “TMI, not part of my engagement.” Too often she insisted and poured it all on the table and told me to just “deal with it.” So, I did.
This engagement started 16 years ago with a conversation about why I didn’t need to be there, the right way to start any engagement. The family told me to stay, that we needed to work together and there were important things to address and change. Perhaps the biggest challenge was to get the owners to admit that their plan to die in the office wasn’t the most realistic way to approach the future of the company. Over the years that plan seemed to be what was going to happen despite some health challenges and the reality of a next generation that wanted to grow into leadership and ownership positions. We were all on a roller coaster, balancing the personal with the business and the parental instincts to protect with the desire of the kids to prove they could fly without supervision. Over the last couple of years these conversations seemed to become more divisive and less trusting between the parties. I ended up refereeing a game that was being played by two teams that loved each other but couldn’t find a way to agree on a mutually acceptable outcome.
I am happy to report that things got worked out, and all parties are happy. And that is why the title of this blog is “I Lost a Client, A Love Story.” This past Tuesday the president asked me to come visit for an update on the current state of affairs. I sat and listened as this woman who 16 years ago told me her last breath was going to taken in the office where we were seated was now telling me she had sold the business and couldn’t wait to enjoy the success she had created for herself and her family. She felt completely ready to let go and move on knowing that everyone had won in the end. Her husband could walk away successfully, and her son and daughter-in-law were taken care of in the new business arrangement. And everyone was happy and still intact as a family. This was my ultimate goal 16 years ago; a peaceful and profitable future for them all. At the end of the meeting I was told there was one sad part to the deal; that we wouldn’t be meeting any longer. I’ll miss those get togethers, but I couldn’t be happier about why we won’t be having them. I hope to report many more client losses like this.