From today’s mailbag: “Things completely outside my control are negatively impacting my customer relationships – I cannot control much beyond my sales process, like the execution of the solution. What can I do to prevent losing these customers forever?”
Carson: Many times, we on the front lines of the selling relationship can control only so much: we can sell the earth, moon and stars, we can promise and commit and spout the corporate talking points. Beyond that, we very often rely on others for administrative responsibilities, for the delivery of the solution or product or service, and we can only inspect the progress on the assembly line so far. However, because we are on the front lines – we are the face of the company to our customers! – they will most certainly reach out to you when things go wrong, promises are broken and commitments you made go unkept on the “back end.”
1. Level-set expectations. If you know that processes are ambiguous or still being ironed out, if you are in a transformational or incubation environment, or you are aware of a current issue facing potential customer satisfaction at the end result, be sure to inform your customer up front of the issue. You are often a liaison between your company and its processes and the end user: your customer. Being open about potential issues that will be faced during the process can temper the pain points down the road. It also can cost you the business, but this does accomplish a few things: you can provide this feedback to your organization as a pain point that must be overcome, you further gain your potential customer’s respect because you were honest, and once you are able to iron out these deficiencies it is more likely you can earn their repeat business down the road.
2. Be incredible at what you can control. No matter how many links there are in the chain to the solution, it’s always possible hitches can present themselves. What you can control are the quantity of customers you target, the effectiveness of your pitch and message, the tenacity with which you provide efficient and consistent communication, how and how often you follow up, and the support you provide throughout all layers of the sales relationship. You won’t win every relationship, and sometimes things outside of your control will hamper your success, but no one but you can control how you react and respond to that. You choose to play the numbers’ game – if 1 out of 10 customers won’t do business with you solely because of process hang-up’s, you can control providing this feedback to your organization and you can control calling the necessary additional decision-makers to reach your goals.
3. Own it. There are many sales professionals who will distance themselves from the process, but your customers see only your company. Take ownership of the totality of the relationship – acknowledge that there are issues at certain stages of the game, that you take your customers’ needs and feedback very seriously, that you are getting the information into the right hands, and that you are doing everything you can to expedite the situation. The sales food chain is very similar across all links; just like a sales team does not expect a manager to literally fix everything that ails them, they just want to see that their voice is heard, they want to see the manager communicating their issues elsewhere and they want to see the concerns addressed. We win some, we lose some, and customers can accept that. But give them a forum for process improvement! If you have the chance to get them in touch with others who impact the business and the links in the chain that are currently faltering, do just that! Your customers will be part of the solution, which gets them more involved in your operation and relationship and it strengthens that bond and enhances your chances of doing future business. They’re invested. You invested in their solution and they’ll be invested in the potential for a positive outcome.
4. Exercise patience and revisit the big picture. We will sometimes lose customers for one of a variety of factors. Sometimes, our organization will roll something out before it’s ready because it’s imperative to have something in the marketplace so they don’t fall too far behind. The more plugged in you are to the overall big picture reasons why things are the way they are, the more you are taking it upon yourself to get the necessary problems with potential solutions to powers that be, the more you are positively impacting your business and the potential customer relationships to come. You’ve no doubt heard that to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs. Customer relationships can be fragile, and many times they are looking at you amongst a rather large field when making a decision. It’s possible you will not lead in every single facet when it comes to price, efficiency, productivity and capabilities, but where you can lead is in communication, honesty, building and gaining respect, and doing everything you can to provide value.
No sales product or solution is completely perfect in every way; if it was, there would be no room or need for competition! You provide a product or solution that is unique, and you are a unique additive to the solution. Be honest, be receptive to feedback, relay the feedback and needs of your customers to those who are paid to make the process enhancements and changes necessary and be effective in your outreach and support. Always remember to control what you can; don’t sell yourself short on what you think you can’t control, don’t just accept what you view now as a failure – own the customer’s experience, get them involved as you can in solutions and keep working toward an optimum experience for all. For that is the plight of all sales professionals and organizations after all.
Carson V. Heady posts for “Consult Carson” serving as the “Dear Abby” of sales and sales leadership. You may post any question that puzzles you regarding sales and sales leadership careers: interviewing, the sales process, advancing and achieving. You will also be directly contributing to his third book, “A Salesman Forever.”
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Carson V. Heady has written a book entitled “Birth of a Salesman” that has a unique spin that shows you proven sales principles designed to birth in you the top producer you were born to be.
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