Is it time to break off a long-term relationship?

Is it time to break off a long-term relationship?

The other day I was talking to a guy who had just swapped publicity relations providers.

He’d been with the previous firm for five years but admitted going with someone new had been a long time coming – his previous PR company never touched base with him, didn’t enquire about any new products he had to market, didn’t even contact him to set up a nice smoozy dinner, lunch or even a measly coffee! The only time he really heard from them was when they sent out his early Christmas gift… and every month with their invoice! Now, this guy is an astute businessman. The company he owns is now a big one, a household name. He’s no slouch. But why had he stuck with a company who obviously weren’t working hard for him? (Or for their retainer?)

The same reasons many of us stick with business relationships that we really should get out of. He felt loyal to them. They’d worked with him to launch his first product, a launch which was by all accounts a raging success, with coverage on TV and pretty much every magazine you could hope for. The PR company  were superstars and during their mind-blowing launch they made his product a superstar too. But then they seemed to lose interest and go off the boil.

If we think about all the working relationships we have, I’ll bet there’s at least one, if we’re honest with ourselves, that we should be politely ending. Your lovely family lawyer who was amazing when you were starting out as a 20-year-old but who is, truth be told, a little out of his depth now your company has over 50 employees. A mechanic who really impressed you with the extra lengths he went to in the beginning (full valet, pick-up and drop-off, rubbish bag in the glove-box) but who has now got a bit complacent and can’t even seem to return your car the same day after a simple service. Maybe it’s an electricity or telco provider that you’ve been loyal to for years – but it’s a mostly a one-sided affair, as they’ve never rewarded you for your devotion. (Don’t you hate that new customers get offered the cheap rates, new iPhones and huge discounts and us faithful customers get nothing, until it gets to the point where we threaten to leave?!)

For some people, it’s a case of it’s better the devil you know. “Yeah our accountant may be tardy with returning emails or phone calls (or even tax returns) but, hey, he eventually gets there and he hasn’t embezzled me yet.” This attitude isn’t a reason to put up with less than stellar service. A strong working relationship is so important – you should be able to trust that your provider is giving you their all and working as hard as they can for you. They shouldn’t be taking advantage of your long-term relationship, slipping into a mode of complacency. One client I know had been with the same insurance broker for twenty years. The broker’s attitude became more and more casual, until my client decided maybe it was time to check what else was on offer – by the end of his first phone call he’d saved $100,000 a year on insurance premiums.

I’m a big believer in forming good relationships with those we work with – I think that loyalty is an admirable trait to possess. But we shouldn’t be stuck in any relationship where one side doesn’t give their all. There’s plenty of others out there who would love the opportunity to woo you and work with you to make your business a success.

Zac de Silva is a business coach and former owner of Barkers Menswear. He currently runs Business Changing and works with over 70 clients, including BNZ, Westfield, Huffer, Foodstuffs, The Icehouse and Les Mills.