All business relationships come to an end at some stage, that's just the way of the world. We might work with someone for years, but at some stage, they might decide they need a new supplier. There could be many reasons, some yours, some theirs, but most of the time this ending of a business relationship can come as a surprise and a shock and it can damage your business.
From my experience, and I've had client relationships that have lasted over 20 years, there are plenty of warning signs to suggest that a relationship dynamic has changed and the future of your work with a particular person or business is being reconsidered. When you get the first inkling that things are changing or have changed, you need to take action.
So what exactly are the signs that you could be on the verge of losing a big client?
1. They stop communicating
This is a biggie, but I'm also going to suggest that you treat it as a sign, not gospel. There can be many reasons why your client might stop communicating with you. They could simply be snowed under, sick or caught up in some other way. If it is out of character though, take notice that something could be wrong. They may stop communicating because they are re-evaluating their working relationship with you and they need time and space to figure it out.
2. Normal routines start to change
If they start to change normal routines, like a weekly meeting, or a weekly call, this is another sign that there could be trouble in paradise. Any "out of the ordinary" changes to the way a client interacts with you should be an early warning sign that something is changing, it's just a matter of identifying what is changing.
3. They become evasive when you start talking about future projects
In the past you may have discussed the projects you will be working on for your client in the coming year and now these discussions are brushed aside, or not responded to in a meaningful way. This can mean that they see no future with you in their business, or it could simply mean that there are things happening in the business that are going to affect the future, like a sale, a restructure or a new boss. They don't quite know what that means to them or to you but they are not in a position to talk about it.
4. In meetings they stop making eye contact
To me, this is a big one. As soon as eye contact stops, there normally is a problem. For whatever reason, there is an awkwardness that causes them to not want to look you in the eye and this generally indicates bad news is on the way.
5. They start taking longer to pay their bills
The reason for this is often because your invoice has been pulled aside and put on someone's desk for extra consideration. Normally it has a big question mark written on it, suggesting "why are we using this supplier?" or "why are we spending this much with this business?" or "why are we spending this money on this item?". It generally is a questioning of value for money.
6. You get a weird vibe from other members of their team
When you visit the client or contact them, you notice unusual or awkward behavior from other members of their team. Now once again there could be all kinds of reasons why they are acting strange, I'm not suggesting that you get paranoid, but I am suggesting that you be observant to signs like this.
7. They stop taking your advice
This is an interesting one and it can indicate a loss of confidence in you and the advice you give and the work you do. There is nothing wrong with a client that challenges you, personally, I like that, but if they start to ignore your advice without discussing it, or even worse if they stop asking you for your advice, there is trouble brewing.
Now, please let me clarify my advice here. Any of these points alone could indicate that you have an issue with a client that could get worse. But don't take one of these signs alone as gospel that there are issues at hand. Look for a group of signs. If you are experiencing three or four of the above signs, I would almost guarantee that your relationship is in trouble.