Recently I had to call a supplier to let them know I no longer needed their services. We had been working together for a few years but I needed to work with a business that could provide a different service. The original supplier had not done anything wrong, it was just time for a change. So I made the call and was very apologetic and sincere, letting them know it wasn't them, it was me. That (I thought) was that.

What happened next was kind of surprising. I received a long and aggressive email from the supplier, along the lines of "how dare you." They made it very clear that to get any of my unfinished projects completed would cost a premium as I was no longer a "preferred client." They attached the latest bill which had their hourly rate tripled as an "end of contract" penalty. What are the chances I will ever use this company again? Less than zero.

There could have been another outcome. We could have parted ways amicably and perhaps even worked together in the future. Here are some ideas of how to make sure you don't burn bridges when ending a business relationship.

How To End A Business Relationship

All business relationships have to come to an end. Companies change suppliers, businesses start up or go bust, new products or services become available, people change roles and change suppliers. We all have to face the fact that at some stage we will get a phone call or email saying we have lost an account. It's what happens from here on that differentiates a great business from a lousy business.

Over the years I have seen terrible behavior from companies that have "spat the dummy" when told they have lost a contract. They take the view that the relationship is over, so what's to lose? They start being rude, stop returning calls, start sending through ridiculous bills, become uncooperative and generally act badly. What they don't realize is that word gets around. We all talk to people within our network and a bad break up with a supplier is a very common topic of discussion. No one wants to take on a new supplier if they have heard rumors that they are bad at break ups.

Here are 7 ways to make sure you have a good break-up.

  1. Aim to finish the relationship in exactly the same way that it started, with absolute professionalism.
  2. Never get petty at the end. Be supportive and help the transition to go smoothly.
  3. Don't price gouge; make sure that your final bills are fair and reasonable in every way.
  4. Brief your staff and show them how to manage a business break in a professional way.
  5. Don't let the relationship ending become an excuse for poor service. Be as attentive with your client once they have advised you of their decision as you were before. 
  6. Ask for feedback from the client such as what could you have done to have kept the business.
  7. Make a point of sending a letter of gratitude to not only your direct contact but also the CEO of the organization thanking them for their business.

My philosophy has always been to act as professionally as possible, right to the last moment. Interestingly enough, I have often gotten the client back, simply because the new supplier didn't deliver on their promise. I didn't burn any bridges, the door was left well and truly open and the relationship remained positive, making it easy for the client to come back.