How to Inherit a Portfolio of Upset Clients

Did you hear the news? 

  • Joe just left for another company! 
  • I think Robbie was laid off…  
  • Bridget got that promotion!  
  • [Insert another scenario that involves you inheriting someone else’s portfolio of clients.] 

Part of the job is inheriting clients. It happens regularly in the world of account management and customer success. You’re handed over a slew of people, problems and opportunities. Just like that.  

Sometimes it feels like you just struck gold. Bridget’s promotion may help you make that down payment you have been saving up for. Congrats! 

While it is not always the case, it is possible that Robbie was laid off partially because he didn’t have the best handle of his customers. You are being “gifted” with a crew of angry customers. 

So here you are, holding a folder of unhappy clients. What do you do when you get stuck with a portfolio of clients from an account manager who couldn’t handle their clients so instead, they passed them on to you? 

“Have an intro call to make yourself known and outline the experience you bring to the role. During the call it’s a good idea to understand your stakeholders’ roles and what they believe your product is supposed to solve for them.”

ash glenville, customer success manager at zesty
  • Apologize for the inconvenience. Reassure that they can trust you and you’ve got their back.  
  • Educate yourself. Find out about their relationship with your company. Identify what has gone wrong in the past. Review their paper trail to find out why the customers might be upset, anything that the client has already communicated in emails or in meetings. If possible, schedule a handover meeting with the colleague who is transitioning to allow them to share more about the clients from their perspective.  
  •  Once you are familiar with your client, schedule an onboarding call. Give them the floor and hear them out. Find out what their experience has been with your company from their perspective. Make it clear that you want to understand their current situation and history if relevant, but most importantly you want to know where they want to go. Set new goals together and sort out how you can help them achieve them.

“I find that when a customer is difficult, they aren’t finding or being connected with what they need. The key is to get them to talk about what they need. Whether you can supply it or you can connect them to it makes you valuable to them.”  

mary matthews, senior account executive at iheartmedia
  • Exercise active listening. Don’t just hear them. Listen. Acknowledge their frustrations and repeat how you heard what they said to ensure that you are on the same page. This is a great way to make sure that you do not have miscommunications moving forward while demonstrating that you understand your client’s wants and needs.  
  • Don’t throw your predecessor under the bus. You will never see the full picture or understand the many moving parts that lead to what may currently seem like one huge mess. Accept that your former colleague must have had their reasons for whatever they did.  Take account of the current situation to assess how to better meet the client’s needs moving forward.  

“Just understand what you are receiving, why they are angry, and take responsibility as if you also made them angry, as it shows a unified front: “We messed up, and we know it.” Then just let them know that glass breaks, but it can be cleaned up. This isn’t ideal, but it happens. Be calm. If you aren’t, the client will be angry AND worried. Explain that you can’t guarantee that more glass wont break, but you are committed to collaborating on how we get on the same page with their expectations and new goals.”

matt calhoun, business development specialist
  • Don’t overcompensate. You don’t want to appear desperate. Only take actions that make sense. 

“I believe in apologizing for what we can truly own, but we don’t overcompensate on apologies. I also don’t believe in chasing client happiness. ‘I understand this [insert change or challenge] is impacting your experience which would lead to this moment where you’re concerned or frustrated how this may affect your results of our partnership. I hear you. From what I understand these _________are your objectives for partnering with us. 
It’s our goal to keep moving your objectives to create success. Here’s what we can do better.’
We don’t ask to be trusted, we demonstrate why we can be.

candace taber, vp of learning & enablement at sellx
  • Set a clear plan with updates and communication about how you want to move forward. Realize that this will take time. Set milestones that seem reasonable and achievable. Make clear who is responsible for various elements in order to meet milestones and keep yourself and your client on track.  
  • Keep your manager in the loop. Two (or more) heads are better than one. You may be able to benefit from executive sponsorship or insights to help you navigate these tricky waters. 

“Sales teams often roll people around when there are personality clashes. Good tech people also do this. They bounce ideas off each other and try to problem solve. But, and I have done this, you may find you need to fire the client. And that is it’s own discussion.”

keith brooks, ceo at b2b whisperer
  • Keep up your end of the deal. Whatever you committed to, whatever promises you made to your new client, get it done. Even a minor lapse can be exacerbated since your client is not in the best of moods with your company.  
  • As always, keep your cool.  Act calm and internalize a sense of calm.  

Ultimately, whether it comes to your favorite or most challenging clients, you need your team to be on the same page with a collaborative unified front to do your job. You want to be able to communicate quickly and freely. Your team can help you approach individuals and situations with Looking to get input from your colleagues without worrying about mistakenly looping in your clients and prospects?  

Let us introduce Collabria, an email collaboration tool that keeps those private conversations private. Apply for early access by becoming a Collabria Design Partner.  

Become a Collabria Design Partner 

Have more tips? Let us know! Want to be able to collaborate with colleagues without worrying about looping in your client to your email thread? Start your beta user account today! 


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