Guide to moving on from your current service provider

Moving from one service provider to another is a tricky business. If you’re a startup or establishing a new initiative, finding your first provider is a challenge. However, most of us have a set of experts outside of in-house staff who are already part of the ecosystem of work we do. In this guide, we’ll explore the challenges of choosing to move on from your current vendor and how to transition to the next one.

Mind the gap

In our personal lives, we can end a relationship and take a break. Regardless of emotional motivation, there’s no real need to find someone else immediately. Unfortunately, in business, we’re often not afforded the luxury of having a gap in service. Whatever that partner did for you, it will have to be filled by someone else, and quickly.

Because of this, moving on from a vendor is not a decision to make lightly or irrationally. Everyone has bad days and makes mistakes from time to time. Consider if your vendor is in this situation. Though, it’s more likely that you’ve noticed a pattern of behavior, not just one-off issues. So, it’s even more important to not let the deteriorating relationship linger. The longer you delay, the harder it gets.

Use this guide to decide if it’s time to move on, and if so, how.

Move with kindness and security

Your first order of business is to make sure you’ve got all the keys to your kingdom. If it involves technology, make sure you have admin-level access to platforms and other accounts. It should be as exhaustive as possible. Don’t forget that some services are “hidden” like hosting, asset management, web caching or social media accounts.

If web hosting, ensure you have DNS information in your hands.

This is the same as your ability to set up forwarding of your postal mail and the right to change your utilities to a new address. If it’s a website, DNS possession means control of the site. Ethical providers will always want you to have secure and predictable access to it on your own. Should you meet resistance, just explain it’s a best practice and you’re just getting together documentation. (This is good to do even if you don’t plan to move away from your provider).

Review what 3rd party services they utilize and be ready to remove their access once you’ve officially moved on.

We’re not sure if our good friend Leslie Camacho coined the term “knowledge coffin,” but we’ve heard him use it many times. It refers to anyone who has knowledge of technology, accounts, or practices at your business and has sole access to it. They can effectively box up that knowledge in a coffin and bury it. Certain information may still need to be accessible on a limited basis, but make sure it’s not a single person, especially if they don’t work directly for your business.

Determine what’s missing

When trying to determine why a service provider relationship isn’t working out, consider if the problem meets one or more of the following:

  • Lack of time and attention
  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of ideas
  • Lack of skills
  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of respect

Determining which areas are causing the breakdown will help you frame the conversations to come and identify a new provider.

Start talking to new providers before moving on from the old

You’re really looking for someone who can meet your new needs. You grew and changed over time. Your needs for providers have changed. Or, maybe your provider has changed. Maybe they’ve shifted their offerings and positioning and no longer fit your business profile. Either way, it’s OK; it happens.

It may seem obvious but don’t be tempted to drop someone without preparation, even if it’s a truly bad situation. You’ll be best served with a bit of overlap between your current and new provider. Look for a new partner who can demonstrate that they play well with others. The next vendor will definitely interact with your old provider. The new one should have the tools and established activities to smooth the transition process. Your conversations when searching for the next experts should include how they help new clients through a transition. (Check out our guide on Finding a Reliable Service Partner.)

Go for a test drive

If you have the opportunity, try out the new provider on a small task, ideally a review or audit. This is what we do at Solspace. It’s low risk and gives you a service connection with low expenditure. You’ll get a sense of their skillset and workstyle before committing to a long-term relationship. You will have two providers for the short term, but this reduces risk for you and your business. It will make it easier for you to let the current one go.

Review your contract with the current provider

Service contracts are often those documents you both mutually sign and then tuck away somewhere and never look at them again. Review it like it's the first time you’re seeing it. What’s your notice policy? What guarantees do they offer (or don’t offer)? Regardless of the type of service, most contracts have a 30-day notice or something similar. But, each provider is different. Make sure you know what to expect.

Meet with your outgoing provider to break the news

Once you find a new provider, it’s time to talk to the current/outgoing one. No, it’s not going to be fun. Consider it a kind send-off, not a negotiation. If you’ve gotten to the point of deciding it’s time to move on, you’ve likely already had many conversations trying to fix the problem without success. Stick to your decision; it will make things easier in the long run.

It’s also best to have the message delivered by someone in your leadership not involved in day-to-day work. They’ll not only have the authority but bring with them a bit of emotional distance. The outgoing provider will likely attempt to keep you as a client with promises, but avoid succumbing to this offer. If they were going to fix things they would have done it by now. You’ll find yourself in a situation where both of you know that you want to move on, and yet are still pretending you don’t want to. It could get better for a bit, but won’t last. Explain you already have a new provider onboarded and you just need to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Once that conversation is done, send an email with multiple contacts CC’d on it (and probably BCC’d as well). This gets everything in writing and confirms what you discussed during the meeting. Also, it’s likely that won’t be the last conversation you have with the outgoing provider. So remember to keep it civil and productive. You’ll need to collaborate with the outgoing provider until the transition is complete.

The transition

You should expect a transition period, but be ready to move on without one. Ideally, your current provider wants to preserve their reputation and offer the best experience for transitioning away. But, it’s possible they won’t want to do this. This is why the “keys to the kingdom” step is so important. Essentially, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

Let your new provider lead the transition. You’ll definitely be involved, but the new provider should be skilled at transitioning new clients from previous providers. The right new partner will have done this many times before and know what to expect.

Get ready to work with the new provider -- it will be different

Don’t expect the replacement provider to be just like the old provider was when the relationship was good. This new partner likely has different ways of doing things. Seek to understand what these differences are. Ask tons of questions and ask to see the receipts. Then embrace the difference. Your new provider should be eager to show you success. And they’ll want to do things in the way that’s been most successful for them -- likely differently from your previous providers.

Reiterate what was missing from the last provider so the new one can know what’s valuable to you. Get ready to shake things up a bit. Working with new folks is a great opportunity to build new habits and expectations.

Don’t pretend this isn’t difficult

Look, only jerks revel in the opportunity to fire a vendor. (In fact, one of our core values at Solspace is “We’re anti-jerk.”) It’s going to feel awkward and, depending on the relationship, maybe even a bit sad. So, there’s some emotional labor involved here too. If you’re in a leadership position, check in on your staff to see how they're handling the move. Be ready to address both logistical and emotional challenges.

So, if you’re struggling with a current service provider, consider the thoughts in this guide to help get your head around what’s next. It’s going to take some work, but the right provider will offer you the help and guidance to make the transition successful and as pain-free as possible.