How Not to End a Business Relationship

Burning Bridge

Sometimes business relationships end.

It just happens. Customers move and need something closer. People’s needs, lifestyle or priorities change. Maybe a client wants to try something new, but may come back when they find the ease of working with a trusted partner is value added.

Of course it’s disappointing.  Of course you may be thinking about how it will impact your bottom line. But the ability to leave a door open to future business, to referral business, is a wise road in looking at the big picture.

The wrong way to end a business relationship.

I turned in my leased vehicle on Saturday after my two year lease ended. I liked the car, appreciated how easy maintenance was… we just made a different choice this time.

I had turned everything in and was ready to leave. I had a question about something that was handwritten, added to my close out letter, after I had signed it. My salesperson couldn’t answer the question and said I would have to talk the manager. As he brought me to the manager’s desk, he apologized…to the manager! “I’m sorry, I know it’s Saturday, your’re busy. “

“Yes,” said the manager, not making eye contact, barely looking over the rim of his reading glasses.

Note that I had only ended my lease 5 minutes ago. Note that I had been a customer for two years at this location prior to five minutes ago. Note that I have bought this make of car two other times in the past and my husband currently owns a car of this make. Note that given how much longer my husband and I will drive, that we have a son almost ready to drive, that over the course of our combined lives we will probably buy and/or lease another 26 vehicles.

Given our past record, up until this moment, the likelihood that at least some of those cars would be this make was extremely high.

Until the Certified Sales Manager at the dealer likened my expectation of him being respectful and answering a question, in his words, to what I would expect “showing up at a restaurant at 7 pm on a Saturday night.”

Last I checked 1.) A car costs $18,000 plus while in a restaurant I might spend $200 or less. And, no matter how busy, or if the next words were “the wait is one hour,” the host or hostess at the restaurant would say “Welcome to our restaurant, we’re glad you’re here.”

At that moment, the manager pretty much guaranteed that I would not consider purchasing this make of car in the future. And, what’s funny is, the conversation would have actually been shorter (it was still only about five minutes) had he just greeted me and had a friendly conversation. It actually took more time for him to be insulting.

So that was an example of the wrong way to end a business relationship. How could you do it better?

The right way to end a business relationship.

  • We’re sorry to see you go. We hope that you will come back in the future.
  • Is there anything I could do for you to reconsider? (And if there is, try to do it if there’s still time for change.)
  • Feel free to call me if you have questions or if I can help augment what you are doing with the new vendor (e.g. is there a smaller product that still might serve your client to maintain the relationship. With the car model—the dealership has a maintenance department-they just lost my husband’s business for maintenance, too.)

There are times when a business relationship cannot be salvaged, even times when you are initiating the “break-up.” There are times, to use the phrase from ancient Rome, you may feel fully justified to “burn your bridges.” But the more common form of the phrase used now is “don’t burn your bridges,” because things change, needs change and positivity begets positivity.