Have you even heard of a premortem? Many of you may not have heard of a premortem but you have more than likely heard of a postmortem.

Perhaps you have heard of a postmortem in relation to a medical setting where health professionals are helping family members or someone else learn what caused a patient’s death. In this process, the medical team tries to learn everything they can about what causes the death.

I’m talking about a business premortem. Not the death of a business, but the loss of a major client as an example. Hopefully any business that loses a major client wants to know why they lost the client so they can be sure to make any changes necessary to assure that doesn’t happen again. Losing a key client can be caused by a wide variety of things. These can include process failures, planning failures, follow up failures, people relationship failures, pricing failures, unexpected competitor actions, communication failures, billing failures, partner failures and on and on. Hopefully every business that loses a key client reviews these areas and perhaps many more unique to their circumstances.

What is a premortem? A premortem is doing the same good thinking and research you do for a postmortem only you do it in advance to help you avoid losing a key client.

How might you do a premortem and when should you do one? The answer to the timing question can be tricky. You could do the premortem when you get to the point where you are making the final presentation to the potential new client. Taking this approach could help you design the proposal in a way that you know you will be using your best systems, processes and people to deliver on a promise that you will be comfortable supporting. Let’s assume that you have the new client and you are going to do the premortem in the first 30 days after getting the new client. There are likely many ways to do a premortem but here is one you might try.

Start your premortem by assuming you have lost the client. Designate a strong member of your team that has experience dealing with many clients as the leader of the review team. The goal of the premortem team is to try to get in to the head if the new client that you have just lost and identify why they have left you. To do this the team will look at all your systems, processes, procedures, communication protocols, people who will be working with the client and all the commitments and promises you to have made to the new client. They will complete their research and come back to the bigger team and present why they have left you. The result of this work should show you areas where you are vulnerable with this client, and perhaps others, and give you the opportunity to close the gaps and prevent losing the client. One important thing about doing the premortem, you can’t be arrogant about your offerings, you be will need to take a close look at what your team has identified as reasons for the client leaving and take the necessary action to fill the gaps.

Performing a premortem is not going to guarantee that you will never lose a client but it will put you in a much better position.

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