We’ve all had to fire employees and many of us have “fired” clients. Both of those are very uncomfortable conversations and take a lot of planning and forethought to get right. Tact is critical and the risk can be high, particularly with firing a client.
Something I had to do recently was to fire a trade partner. We worked very frequently with an HVAC company we had met on a project years ago, and they seemed reliable, knowledgeable, and client-oriented. So whenever clients were interested in HVAC work, we would recommend them, and then we would integrate our control system with the HVAC. It increased our sales because we were selling more points of control, and in theory, it was supposed to make our lives easier since we could be sure to be involved in the specifying of hardware.
However, it didn’t always work out that well. Over the past few months we have been hearing complaints from several clients about this vendor and it was reflecting poorly on us, since we had recommended them. The vendor was pushing for large deposits far before necessary (i.e. at contract signing and not at time of product order). Orders were being done incorrectly so there were installation delays and missed deliverables, affecting every trade on the project. Incorrect information was given to contractors for measurements and installation requirements, resulting in a lot of rework. And there was no paper trail, as the owner was very old school and liked to do everything in person or over the phone, so there were no emails. While not an issue in and of itself, there was no post-meeting follow up on his part to provide meetings notes and action items, so it became a brutal game of he-said, she-said, and typically there were more witnesses for the other side.
While I have been trying to coach him for several months on better processes, better client interactions, and better follow through, nothing seemed to stick. He was well aware of how disappointed clients had been, but he always seemed to have an excuse: a sick brother, a broken truck, a doctor’s visit. And he shared way too much. Not only did I not need to know he had a hemorrhoid operation, the client certainly did not need to know!
The last straw came last month when a client told me they had several friends in the real estate market this spring looking for new homes, and would love to provide referrals for us based on the great work we did and the ease of working with us. However, if we continued to use this HVAC partner, they wouldn’t feel comfortable referring us, as it was just too stressful and difficult for them to deal with this vendor.
So this week, I had to have a very difficult conversation with him and let him know that his performance was reflecting poorly on my business and I just could not tolerate the reputation risk. While I would be fine working with him on any projects we happen to land in common, I could not bring him in under our umbrella any more. I waited until we did not have any open projects together to have this conversation with him, as I did not want to ruin work in progress and put a client in a bad position. He was not happy, but I had to stand my ground and think about my business, my employees, and my clients. They had to come first.
It is a very hard conversation to have, but it needed to be done. It would not have been fair to him to just not call him anymore. He needed to know what was happening and why. Hopefully this will serve as the kick in the pants he needs to get his act in order.