An excited Corey recently came to me with this story about a large client he’d been working on months and months. His manager warned him that the relationship was strong between the client and the current vendor so it was a long shot. Corey was persistent and kept going and going and going, a bit like the energizer bunny when one day he came to me barely able to breath;
“Greta!,” he said. “I did it! I got ‘em! The big one I was working on!”
After congratulations and back slapping, I asked a few key questions. “Corey, wasn’t that the prospect working with your largest competitor?”
“Yep!” he replied. “They sure were and that’s the best part!”
I then asked how they were going to handle the situation when the incumbent (who’d had the account since the first Bush was in office) found out he’d taken it and then counter offered to keep the account.
“They’re so mad at him,” Corey answered. “The service has gone down and they told me it was time for a change.”
Having received a promise that the initial order would arrive within the week, Corey left the prospect’s office with a handshake and then indulged in a rousing “YES” once he got to the privacy of the parking lot.
Three days later, there was a message on his voice mail.
“Corey,” spoke the voice of his “new client”. “Call me ASAP. We’ve got to talk.”
From the tone of his voice, Corey knew there was a problem. He immediately called the client and asked if there was something wrong. The man told Corey he was sorry, but the incumbent vendor found out about the potential loss of business and came back with a counter offer. Lots of promises. Better service. And, of course, a significantly lowered price.
Predictably, the incumbent kept the business. Corey tried to call back to see if he could offer any other concessions, but the client was too embarrassed to even return his calls.
So what happened? Typically, salespeople hate bad news. They don’t want a potentially unpleasant conversation with a prospect, especially when it feels like things are going well. They often put blinders on when their guts tell them a situation could be on the horizon. And they’re rather quietly pray that it won’t happen, rather than take steps to head it off at the pass. BIG MISTAKE!
You’ve got to deal with potential problems when you see them coming. If something can go wrong, or if you gut tells you it might, deal with it right then. In this case, Corey knew it was a possibility. So what could he have done that might have changed the outcome?
At the end of the process, when the client agreed to move forward, Corey should have made this move:
“I’m glad we’re going to be working together. Between your needs and what we have to offer, it seems to be a good match. But I’m curious—when ‘ABC Competitor’ finds out you’re making a change and comes back offering to beg, borrow and steal to retain your business, what will you do?”
By taking this step, you’ll have a much better chance of saving the account. Bring it up when you’re there rather than later when they’re too embarrassed to discuss it. If they’re switching for a legitimate reason, this discussion helps solidify the decision. If they say, “Well, I’d have to look at it,” then you’ve never really sold it in the first place. This will also allow you to have a conversation right there and then about that bringing up the reasons they were leaving their existing vendor. After you leave it is much less effective to have this conversation.
Greta Schulz is president of Schulz Business SELLutions in Palm Beach, Florida. She is the best-selling author of "To Sell is Not to Sell". Greta does corporate training for fortune 1000 companies and she has an on-line training course for entrepreneurs. For sales tips go to: www.schulzbusiness.com