By Andrew Neitlich

How to burn a bridge

By Andrew Neitlich

Here’s a sad postcript to last blog about sales process:

One finalist in the process replied with a snide comment to me after I informed the firm that I was moving forward with someone else. I thanked him for his time, and he replied with a curt email that read, simply:

“even though you wasted it.”


That’s simply bad form. Yes, the person had to invest time answering questions and scoping out the work. Yes, I’m a bit analytical and probably ask more questions than most. But that’s the nature of the business. You want to win more engagements than you lose, but sometimes you lose.

The sad thing is that I liked this person up to this point, and would have used him for some other work. The firm demonstrated good design skills, and could have been a good resource.

But not now.

Be gracious with prospects, even if they don’t choose you. Stay in touch. You never know.

Certainly don’t burn bridges.

  • How sad. I hope this finalist reads your blog :)


  • What a sad person :(
    Most of the Jobs I dont get, dont even let me know I just never hear from them again, or hear that someone else has got the job.
    If you had gone to the bother of sending me a sorry but thanks email, I would have looked at that as a potential way to get a foot in the door for future jobs, and emailed you a nice email back. Not to mention I would be stoked you actually went to the bother of letting me know.

  • Ryan Wray

    This is obviously not professional practice. It makes the firm look childish. I can understand his disappointment in not winning the contract, but this behaviour only makes things worse. Be a gracious loser, not sour.

  • When pitching to clients, I like to say something to the effect of:

    “If you feel, for whatever reason, that our offering isn’t the right one for you at this point, please be so kind as to let us know the reasons, so that we can do better next time.”

    This isn’t self-deprecating. I can say all that with full confidence in the quality of the services I offer. However, sometimes what I offer isn’t the right fit for this client at this point in time. But, one day, it may be.

  • Amen to this!

    A sample story: Our firm was given the chance to pitch to a very large client, one which would undoubtedly be our ‘big fish.’ So, we pitched. We made design comps (even a 6′ tall print out, which was quite impressive if I don’t say so myself). Dinners, meetings, printouts and in the very end – we did lose the contract. But, you know what our sales team did? They called them, thanked them, and offered any help – no matter how small for free.

    But, you see… the firm they did decide to go with suddenly started changing directions once the project began. The engineering ability they had boasted in their meetings with them was really just an ability to outsource. Soon, the large company realized its fault.

    So, soon enough, we got another call. And now, we’ve got that client. Never burn bridges. Never. It’s the only way you ever lose clients.

  • thorbergdt

    You can bet he won’t be getting a referral for business from anyone you come in contact with. Always be polite :)

  • the last job i left i made sure we left on great terms. we still contact each other by email and have a few good laughs now and again.

    it’s too bad about this guy.

  • Although inappropriate, email makes it all too easy and tempting to respond like this. Maybe he was having a bad day? Maybe you were the only client he had lined up for a while?

  • pdxi

    I’ve been around in this business long enough to know that there’s always a hidden opportunity in the loss of another. “One door closes, but another two open”, as some might say.

    On top of this, the best thing you can keep in this situation is your dignity. In worst case scenarios, being rude only compromises your ability to do this.

  • nortypig

    Although it’s sad that they did this it’s probably very frustrating to invest so much and then not get over the line. It’s still bad form and unprofessional but maybe we should look at how designers are treated in this process. Couldn’t it be considered bad form to for instance play 5 people off against each other in a pitched match to the death for your work on every single project? Not aimed at you in particular, I mean in a general industry practise.

    Knowing a small business is probably scraping on the bottom line I’d maybe suggest that you consider making the process either less intense or only field larger businesses.

    Its just a sad part of this business that for some reason our time isn’t a consideration. As a small business I’d like the work but not be able to invest so much to chase you for it. Should I really have to jump so many hoops?? Honestly? Really?

    So while I agree the reply was unprofessional I have to say from a very small business POV I have some sympathy. No I wouldn’t get your project but under those conditions I don’t think I’d apply. Why? Because I find begging for a dollar quite different to being employed for it.

    Mmmm and yes I do remember the article about making designers submit prototypes and you ended up hiring a friend after fielding your prospects.

    Feel free not to hire me for my comments lol. This is a great controversial blog and I read every article but sometimes ….

  • I know it feels defeating when you hear “We have chosen someone for this task, unfortunately its not you”. You feel like tearing their head apart. BUT, this is when you just face off for the time being, calm yourself and reply.
    The last time I got torned down like this, my reply was … “It is indeed unfortunate for me that I was unable to convince you of my worthiness. I hope to be of service at a later time.” and the client replied “We have put your proposal and the resume on the records, we’ll contact you if something comes up in the future.” Now whether or not is a different story, the point being that the level of professionalism was maintained by both parties.

  • Ned Collyer

    What about rigged tenders?… in those circumstances its fair game to be pissed. I know the idea of tender is that they are up for bidding, but quite often the winner is decided before any work on the tender has been completed. Its a “formality”. So basically anyone except “the chosen one” is wasting their resources preparing for it. Unfortunatly its not so easy to spot these.

    Of course burning a bridge isnt a good idea, but neither is immoral behaviour by firms (it does happen, probably more than you would expect).

    On a completely different level, one of my mates left this company about 6 months ago. He received an email from management on the day of his departure.

    It read..

    how fantastic :)

  • Gilbert

    I indeed agree with all the comments – < >.
    But please, in this case, look first if the message is really coming from the person it seems to be, specifically if the rest of the relationship was fine.
    Look at the internal header of the email to see if there is anything abnormal like the sending server different of the expected domain name for example.
    It is so easy to destroy the reputation of somebody else by “trolling”. SMTP configuration is just not secured. Anybody could easily fake an email as if it is comming from your email address.
    What if I send an angry email to people posting here by faking the name of Andrew and even the return address as if it was his?
    In most of the case, Andrew will not even know it and I will have burned his own bridge. Abject but efficient way to destroy in simple steps the reputation of somebody else…

  • arnek

    I had a similar situation.

    One of our clients bugged out just after the R&A because of a management dispute in the company itself, luckily we charge our clients per project-phase. We gracefully stepped away and thanked them for the oppurtunity.

    Last week they phoned us back saying that they wish to continue with the project …

  • Burning bridges is nothing but bad PR, and at the end of the day responses like the one given here is just bad manners.

    I submitted a damn good proposal for a gig last year, but they chose the guy with more experience. 6 months later, they’re unhappy and are now a client of mine.

  • MatthewHSE

    I see your point, but I wouldn’t assume that it was definitely a snide comment. There are a lot of ways that comment could have been intended; it could even have been an attempt at humor. With the written word containing only about 5% of the total communication available, I certainly would not make a judgement call this drastic on such a small comment.

    You may be right about it being unprofessional, but you might also be wrong. You say you liked the firm up until the time that statement was made. It does not seem like good business sense to me to allow a single ill-chosen comment to over-rule a much longer track record that obviously impressed you.

  • nortypig

    That is a very good point actually…

  • DONMAC17

    Let the arrow of someone’s bitterness pass through you. If you do not quickly react, the wound will not bleed, and the arrow, instead turning to penetrate the sender.

    Old Zen saying I just made up.

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