What to do when the project that got away comes back to you

client comes back

When we lose out on a project proposal, that doesn't mean it's over. I've had many projects come back to me when the 'alternative' that the client chose didn't go as planned. Be prepared...

We've all had those project and consulting gigs that we wanted but that got away from us. Maybe the potential client kept the project in house or went with another vendor. You priced it out accurately, you documented the work, you showed your experience, you wooed the client, you probably even came back with a lower price if you really wanted the project. At the end of the day, the other deal that they were mulling over from another vendor or the implied savings by taking the work inside their own shop was just too good to pass up so they said “no” to you and went with the alternative. It happens.

I'm an independent consultant, I consider myself to be very experienced and fairly successful, and I get told “no” a lot. It happens. We can't let it get us down or damage our egos. Because every time we hear “yes” -- and hopefully that's fairly often -- someone else is being told “no,” too. Someone has to lose. The problem is, deep down you know the quality of your work and the fairness that you priced that work at.

So, what next? Well, you move on to the next potential client and so on and so on. But if you are as experienced and as good as you think and hopefully know you are...and your organization as the right amount of talent, experience, and solid project delivery reputation...then be prepared at all times to have that client who rejected you come back to you as soon as their “alternative” plan doesn't take off as expected.

Here's what to do if and when they do come back to you:

You need to be ready, but with a new proposal. You need to be ready, of course, but your old plan or proposal doesn't work any more – at least not if the work has already started. In fact, you may stand to make even more revenue and an even better profit margin when you go to reprice the remainder of the project. Remember, you may be taking over a mess and there will be hidden elements to this mess. There is no need to price it to win it. Now you need to price it to make some money and truly do the project right.

Add something in that wasn't part of the first proposal. The client came back to you and they learned a lesson in the process. Don't rub it in. In fact, go overboard in showing them how pleased you are to have received their business after you didn't get it the first time around. Give them something for free...perhaps a deliverable, or an onsite project team member, or training on the final solution. Something that won't go overboard and cause you to not make a good profit, but rather something that does at least show some decent value, thought and appreciation.

Think to the future. Finally, think about the future. Always be thinking about the future. It's not always about today, or getting the client on board now, or getting the client that you lost back on board and wanting your work. It's about keeping them for the next project down the road and so on and so on. So price it fair, show gratitude that they came back to seek out your services and never say “I told you so.” Be professional and always have that eye on the future projects they may be bringing to you.

Summary / call for input

The key to getting back what was originally lost is to be patient and know you priced yourself and your services properly. The lack of confidence will show if you can't just let it go when you lose. Wish them well and tell them the door is always open if their plans change. That gives them confidence and helps them to understand that there are no hard feelings and you still want their business whether the need arrives on this project or the next.

What about the readers out there? What have been your experiences with customers saying “no” and then turning around and changing their mind in a week, or later in the project when things aren't going very well or maybe one or two projects down the road? How did you handle it? Please share and discuss.

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