How to Turn an Ending Project into New Business

Open Door

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When a client engagement ends, it’s often bittersweet.  It’s great to have another happy customer appreciating your work.  But it’s also sad, because the revenue ends.

Most business owners don’t realize there are ways to turn this sad event into new business.  Today I’m going to show you how to do this.  When I taught this to a client recently who runs a marketing business, she was amazed at the results.  Not only did she start getting more referrals for new clients, she was able to extend some of her “departing” clients into follow-on engagements!

The “Opening Doors Interview”

You’ve probably heard of an “exit interview,” a sort of debriefing on how a project went and what you can learn from it.  This is a great tool to continuously improve your client service.

I teach my clients a twist on the exit interview, and I’m going to share that with you today.  Instead of being about closing a door, this can be about creating new opportunities.  I call it the “Opening Doors Interview.”

Follow these four steps with every ending project or departing client, and you’ll find new opportunities you never would have uncovered otherwise!

1
Elicit a Testimonial

Start the Opening Doors Interview by thanking your client for the great experience working with them (assuming it’s genuine!).  Ask if they’d be willing to help you by doing a testimonial about you.  Most people will happily say yes.  Having lots of strong testimonials really helps to attract and close future clients.

Draft the testimonial with them right on the spot.  For my suggestions on how to get amazing testimonials, read this article.

Be sure to ask them about their situation before they met you, and how it compares to their situation now.  Not only does this make for a strong testimonial, it makes it top of mind for them what incredible results you’ve helped them achieve.  This sets us up very nicely for step 2.

2
Ask for Referrals

Now they are glowing about how amazing your work is.  What an excellent time to ask for referrals.

Explain that you’d love to find more clients just like them.  Ask them who they know who might be interested in getting your help.  Be sure to ask it open-ended (“Who do you know who…”) and not closed-ended (“Do you know anyone who…”).  Trust me, I’ve messed that up enough times to see the big difference in response.

Write down any names they mention, so you can follow up and ask for an introduction.

3
Talk About Their Future

Often we assume that this client will call us in the future if they ever need us again.  Well they might … and they might not.  Wouldn’t it be better to know WHEN they were likely to be open to working with us again?  And even better, to get permission now to check in with them about it?

This conversation looks a little different depending on the type of business, but generally you want to ask them about their future plans related to the thing you help them with. 

For example, I work with a web agency who helps big companies develop new websites around product launches.  So they ask their clients what project launches are planned over the next 12 months.  They then ask if it’s OK to check in with them at those times.  A personal trainer I worked with often loses clients when budgets get tight.  So he plants the seed with departing clients that hopefully their cash flow situation will change in the future. Then he says something like, “Would it be OK to check in with you in the fall to see how things are going?”

Having done this, you leave this engagement having already started the conversation about the next one.

4
Ask for Feedback

This is from the traditional exit interview. It’s not about getting new work; rather it allows you to perform better on future projects. 

I usually recommend my clients ask for feedback in this way: “What is one thing we could do to serve our clients better?”  This not only keeps the feedback focused, it asks the client to prioritize.  You can get really useful insights from this question!

Action Plan

Write up a version of the Opening Doors Interview for your business, using the four steps I’ve outlined.  Save it as a template you can print and bring with you to the interview.

Share Your Thoughts

What have you found effective in getting new business from engagements that end?  Let us know by posting a comment below!

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