I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Assumptions are full of risk. If your sales team assumes, for example, that they know their clients’ needs, they will direct their actions and resources toward addressing those needs. But what if their assumptions are wrong? Your company risks losing critical business.
As a sales leader, there are ways to help your team avoid this outcome. Data mined by AskForensics reveals that six assumptions can cause client relationships to go sideways. These six assumptions are based on hundreds of in-depth interviews with real-world executives conducted during sales and account forensics investigations.
The good news is that behind every assumption there is a reality. Having insight into real (and not perceived) customer needs opens doors of opportunity to make improvements based on reality and not assumptions.
Assumption 1: We won so that means the customer must really like us.
Reality: It’s possible that your sales team won a bid because your customer really likes your company, but it’s also possible there might be another reason your customer chose your company. Did you ever stop to consider that your company might have been the lesser of two evils? Some sales teams win a deal despite themselves. If another “less evil” or even a “good” comes along, you may lose the account. There may also be tension between decision layers that may affect your account. The executive who hired your company may really like your company, but another executive or front line manager may have a different opinion.
Opportunity: The good news is you won the bid. The great news is, now you have the opportunity to prove to your customer why your company is the winning choice. Creating value with your client will help to insulate you from competitive inroads.
Assumption 2: The customer respects our representative, so the account is safe.
Reality: Strong account representatives can go a long way in helping your company retain accounts, but if the relationship is too much about the individual, the account might be at risk. What if your sales representative decides to leave your company? If your customer really respects your representative, your customer or even a competitor might try to hire him/her. Is the customer’s relationship with your overall company strong enough for you to retain the account?
Opportunity: As great of a job as your account representative might be doing, it’s important to increase the interaction and loyalty your client has with your overall company. The relationship is about your overall company, not just about an individual. Make sure that your clients interact with other company representatives, including executives, other sales leaders and managers. Train all of your employees to treat each client as their own, even if they are not responsible for the original sale.
Assumption 3: We fixed the problem so we are on the right track.
Reality: Unaddressed problems are often the cause of a crack in a relationship with a client, but a problem that has been fixed can still be a problem. Why? Resolving the issue is only half of the battle. The second half of the battle is communicating to all client stakeholders that the problem has been resolved. Companies that resolve issues but do not effectively communicate to all client stakeholders that the problem has been addressed are still at risk of losing a client because of unchanged negative perceptions.
Opportunity: You have the opportunity to change lingering negative perceptions into positive perceptions by 1) resolving the problem, 2) communicating the solution to all stakeholders, and 3) rebuilding trust by following through with outstanding service. You also have the opportunity to articulate your value by using both quantifiable metrics (such as ROI) and softer measures such as improved satisfaction scores.
Assumption 4: My customers would tell me if there was a problem.
Reality: The closer your relationship with a client, the less likely they might be to give you critical feedback. Sounds a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it? If your client feels like your friend, they might be uncomfortable sharing honest and often critical feedback with you or your sales team. However, you need this honest and critical feedback to properly serve your client. If you are not hearing the bad feedback about your company from your client with the good feedback, beware – your client may complain about your company to your competitors instead of to you.
Opportunity: As a partner with your client, you have the opportunity to hold candid discussions with them about their needs and expectations, along with how well you are performing and what they would like to see from your company moving forward. Just like in any relationship, this becomes a refreshing dialogue once you get past the upfront discomfort of having such an honest conversation. However, you have a huge advantage because your competitors can’t have these discussions with your client.
Assumption 5: My sales and account teams would tell me if there was a problem.
Reality: Executives often rely on their account managers and sales teams to be their eyes and ears. Unfortunately, this does not always provide an accurate picture of the state of a client relationship. Since your account managers and sales professionals are evaluated by how well they perform, they might not mention a problem to their superiors. Meanwhile, the client account relationship might be suffering behind the scenes.
Opportunity: You have the opportunity to have other employees, or a third-party company, reach out to your client for objective feedback through a sales or account forensics investigation. By not having a personal stake in the relationship, the neutral party will elicit the gut level, honest feedback you are likely not hearing from your sales and account representatives. This effort, by the way, will communicate to your client that you truly care. This alone will have a positive impact.
6) Being an incumbent during a bid automatically makes us a strong candidate.
Reality: The assumption that incumbent providers are in the strongest position to win is not always true. In fact, customers often have higher expectations from you because you have been the provider. Plus, competitors will pursue your customer with “fresh eyes” and see things you are likely overlooking. If your company has not followed through on your commitments or provided outstanding customer service throughout the contract period, your client may realize that the grass really is greener on the other side and award the bid to your competitor.
Opportunity: Many companies put more work into new bids than rebids. Teach your sales team to treat rebids with as much care as they would a new one. Maintain and enhance value throughout the contract period, and not just as you near the rebid process. After all, the cost of retaining current customers is much less than the cost to pursue new ones.
High performers have the ability to turn lemons into lemonade. Overcoming assumptions by understanding reality allows your sales team to act upon opportunities that otherwise would have been missed. Basing your efforts on reality and not assumptions helps your company turn a potential problem into a positive situation.
When conducting a sales or account forensics investigation on behalf of a client, we often tell our clients that the issue is not that they have a problem with their client; the most important issue is how they resolve it. How can you adapt your business so that you have sustained improvements? Take steps to challenge assumptions and look for opportunities to improve your client relationships and you will find your company in a stronger position to compete in your market.
Rick Reynolds is a co-founding partner and CEO of AskForensics, which assists Fortune-ranked companies in winning and retaining multi-million dollar accounts. For more information, visit www.AskForenics.com.