How not to end a business connection

We’ve all been jilted at the office. By that, I mean we’ve had to face the end of a business relationship. Sometimes it’s done well, other times poorly.


The worst kind of ending is ghosting, where a client or customer goes silent, not contacting you or returning calls or emails.

In dating, when your current love becomes an ex, the effect can be brutal, tolerable, or even welcome, depending on the state of the relationship.


In business, the pain can depend on how long you worked together. If that was years, the effect can be devastating. We’re not just talking about the end of an income – though of course that matters.

Ghosting creates a feeling that the good bond you thought existed is of little value to the client, who doesn’t care if you drop out of their life forever.

This surely isn’t the right way. All business tie-ups end sooner or later, but the finish deserves a full explanation to the other party, preferably face-to-face, no matter how uncomfortable this process may be.

Ghosting should be something that went the way of the black and white television.

Photo by Stefano Pollio

The lure that hides a hook

It’s a common marketing technique that also happens to be illegal. Bait-and-switch means that customers are drawn in with an alluring offer, then flicked over to an item that’s more profitable.

This is often done by denigrating the special deal once the customer is in the store. “It’s a nice vacuum cleaner, but we can’t include a guarantee.” Or “Frankly, you’re too classy for that suit.”


A sophisticated version works like this. You want cosmetic work done on your nose. The first consultation, including a diagnostic examination and X-rays, is very reasonably priced. You’re happy to go ahead.

Then you get the quote for the operation, which frankly looks outrageous. But by then, you know the doctor (who is a nice person) and paid for the preliminary work.¬†You’re in the system.

Bait-and-switch is hard to prove, which is why vendors get away with it. In all cases, you have no obligation to complete the purchase. It’s painful to start again somewhere else – but can hurt more not to.

Use it to persuade a stranger

The phone is a great but forgotten business tool. It lets you chat informally with people and communicate warmth, while picking up the nuances of their speech.

The more I replace phone talk with email or text, the less cooperation I find. Despite the use of emojis, written words are coolly transactional and don’t convey the human touch.

You can’t sell as successfully by email as in person or by phone. Even when using the phone for that purpose, it’s best not to leave a voicemail asking for a return call. What works is to say, “sorry I missed you, will try again”.

Anything that shifts the onus onto the other person is likely to reduce your chance of success.

Text and email are wonderful for associates, friends and family. But when trying to persuade or convince a stranger, nothing beats the human face or voice.

Go where your competitors won’t

We’ve all got business rivals, and it’s easy to believe that nothing is as tough as our own industry. That’s because we’re all fishing for customers in the same pond.

There are people out there who would love to hear from you and know more about your products. You simply haven’t thought of them yet.


Let’s say you’re working in the food industry, but dream of sailing the oceans as a luxury yacht captain. Indulge your hopeless fantasy by reading their blogs. Comment on providoring topics, where you might be able to add a fresh angle to the conversation.

Become the only person of your professional type whom they’ve ever encountered online.

You’ll one day be able to laugh behind your sails when colleagues and competitors complain how hard their life is.

Brands with two faces and not a leg to stand on

We’re all encouraged to promote ourselves as brands, and this is facilitated by the self-publishing vehicles of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Products, including personal ones, plug their positive side and show themselves in the best possible light. This can create a disconnect between image and the real thing.

On a personal level, so-called friends will expose and denigrate you online, if they believe your online story is not an honest one.

At worst, this can result in the destruction of morale and even a total mental breakdown.

Businesses face the same danger, when the gulf between image and day-to-day actions stretches the trust of the public. Here in Australia, the banks and other financial institutions are under fire for exactly that reason. Chairpersons, board members and CEOs are resigning, while share values are plunging.


Of course we’re permitted by cultural convention to put our best foot forward, and this applies equally to commerce as to personal life.

Neither are we expected to be perfect. A frank admission of faults or weaknesses in areas that are not crucial to the main offerings can usefully deslick an image and lift credibility.

Problems arise when this honesty is withheld from the sharp end of the operation – for fear of losing customers, hurting profits or shedding fans, as the case may be.

When the public finds out, we’re treated to the ritualised apology, managed by the publicist or PR consultancy who’s in charge of the reputation of the celebrity or company.

These days, the public are so inured to these standardised grovellings that they no longer appease.

By watching for a disconnect between image and reality, we can save ourselves from the pain of rejection and humiliation. And guard against becoming a two-faced brand.