Written by Dharminder Biharie,
Business Development Manager Xerox Graphic Communications, The Netherlands

disappointed sales imageMost readers of this blog have some connection with the print industry – and if you are reading from a  vantage point in sales, you’ve probably experienced rejection before. And by rejection I’m not talking about getting hung up on after making a cold call, never hearing back from that higher-education prospect, or having your LinkedIn connection request ignored – those are things that have happened to all of us.

What I’m referring to is having your most loyal customer reject your proposal. How could this have happened? You had known this customer for 5 years and you thought you had a very loyal relationship with him. But guess what? The biggest deal on the table went to the competitor. This can happen to anyone, even with small deals, RFP and tenders.

Rather than panicking and frantically sending a barrage of notes to your customer, manager and colleagues; instead take a deep breath and try to calm down.

There are several reasons why this can happen. And believe me, price is #5 on the list. It’s never the primary reason, except for situations involving commodity products that are easily compared. Remember, your organization can weather any potential storm by offering services that add value to something that may once have been seen as a commodity.

The most common reasons customers leave for another company are:

  • No Attention. Customers are not treated with the attention they desire. And yes, your ability to schedule a series of meetings may be unprecedented, but paying attention also means connecting at a personable level. Sending a card when someone is ill, making a call to connect him with another business opportunity, or sending a big cake as a ‘thank you’ for their business can go a long way. And remember, compliments are free – you don’t have to pay for them!
  • No Initiative. Customers want a sales rep who spends time worrying about solving their business challenges, not someone who is difficult to get in contact with because they spend their time solving the coffee problem in the break room. Time should be spent with your customer – understanding their business, their needs, their pain points, and what keeps them up at night. This will give you a good starting point for taking initiative to improve their communication plans. Don’t forget to share the successes of your other campaigns and communication plans, especially if comparable segments or strategies exist.
  • Failure to Execute what you Promise. This sounds familiar. If you  can’t do it, don’t promise it. And if serious doubts linger, just avoid it altogether. Your intuition is a good advisor.
  • Not knowledgeable. There are many other account managers in the print and communication industries, and sometimes it is hard to admit that a competitor knows more than you. Don’t try to pretend that you know everything. If your customer is able to compare knowledge — and it is easier than ever before thanks to social media — you will lose the contact. And remember, no contact means no contract!

Most importantly, never forget to learn from your missed opportunities. You can ask to set up an ‘exit’ interview for the lost deal. There are many ways to do this, including in-person, over the phone, or live-streamed. Utilizing survey tools on the Internet is another alternative, and may be the right choice for lost SMB deals since the value of those deals may be too small to justify the cost of face-to-face interviews.

When conducting an exit interview, some things to keep in mind:

  1. The interview should never be conducted by the existing account manager or the regular contact person. It should always be carried out by a sales manager or someone higher in the organization.
  2. The interview should always be done with the Decision Making Unit
  3. The interview questions can encompass many topics, but should include:
    –  How was your experience with us before you were a customer of sales manager John Doe
    How was your experience with us during the time you were a customer of sales manager John Doe
    How did you evaluate our proposal?
  4. If allowed, record the interview. I always use www.livescribe.com for meetings that matter.

Make this a routine component of your quality process. The interview process should always be used as a tool to learn and it should not make you defensive! Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn – it is the only way to improve yourself, your organization, and the experiences for your customers of tomorrow.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to look at: