It happens. Years of a mutually beneficial relationship come to an end because your company screwed up and caused irreparable harm to the customer. But great salespeople know “I’ll never buy from you again” never lasts forever. Like Yoda, the legendary Jedi Master from Star Wars, great salespeople are wise and patient. They watch for opportunities for fixing a broken relationship.
Watch For Opportunity
Time heals all wounds, it has been said. Rose Kennedy had a slightly different take. She said the wounds remain but the pain lessens. Same happens in broken business relationships. Remember, at some point the relationship was mutually beneficial. Great salespeople keep in touch with past customers. They look for opportunities to rebuild the relationship.
Time Marches On
Change is always happening. Your past customer is no exception. Perhaps the competitor who took your business isn’t meeting expectations. Or the previous buyer has moved on. Or the customer’s needs have changed. Or the customer’s company was bought by another. There are many changes over time. Keeping in touch with the customer will let great salespeople know when to try again.
Clear The Air
Until the problem occurred your company was meeting or even exceeding expectations. That’s a past history to build on. Great salespeople understand to win a past customer back takes time. Begin the sales process all over again, building on the rapport you have with the customer’s decision maker. First “clear the air” by reviewing the past mistake, explaining the changes your company has made to prevent it from happening again and then asking whether it is possible to again consider doing business together. Unless the customer can put the past behind them, great salespeople know future business is unlikely.
The Slap Upside The Head
Early in my sales career, I inherited a sales territory needing rebuilding. One day I walked into a customer’s office and was blasted: “I’ll never do business with you again. You never kept a delivery date. Your invoices were always wrong.” And the litany of problems continued. I was stunned. I had no idea these problems had, and indeed were, continuing to occur. Shame on me for not doing some in-house research on the customer. Great sales people know to check out the history when taking over an account or territory.
Too shocked to do anything else, I listened to the customer unload. At the end, he took a breath and said: “I know you are new here and this stuff is not your fault. I’m sorry I unloaded on you.” Maybe I was just naive but I asked: “So, if we could solve the delivery problem, would we be able to do business together?” His curmudgeon face erupted in laughter. “Son,” he said, “you got guts!” There was more to the problem than just his side but I worked with my company and his to overcome the past. Great salespeople take the risk to find ways to overcome the past.
When The Opera Is Over
The saying goes the “opera is not over until the fat lady sings.” But then it is over. Great salespeople know when they can’t fix a broken relationship. It’s time to move on. Investing more time in this customer won’t pay off. Look for another prospect.
If the broken relationship is a function of personalities, great salespeople often suggest passing the customer to another salesperson. Sometimes the new personality can convert the past customer and begin a new long-term mutually beneficial relationship. But only if the value the customer brings is worth the effort to win their business.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Think about when confronted by a negative issue with a prospect? What did you do? How did it work out?
- Make a list of customers with broken relationships. Consider ways to confront these issues—honestly and in a straight-forward manner.
- If you have a problem with a prospect or customer, determine the value in rebuilding the relationship. Then either drop them or begin the sales process to win their business.
Don Crawford & Lois Carter Crawford