Trust-Based Selling: Finding and Keeping Customers for Life (2015)
Chapter 14. Defense
We have discussed at length how trust progresses through a sales cycle. In order to develop this concept, I concentrated on the toughest starting position, when you are new to the account. But, you need to consider trust with existing customers as well. The discussion of the incumbent defending against a new competitor for an account will serve as a good summary of the book.
We showed that customers place more importance on relationship after the sale. However most salespeople move on to look for new customers after the sale is made. This is foolish for two reasons.
It is much easier to sell to an existing customer—you have earned the customer’s trust, therefore shortening future sales cycles. You don’t have to spend time trying to get your first appointment, and your access to the account should be much easier. Once you enter into the needs analysis phase, your customer will open up to you more, because they already trust you. Evaluations of additional services or products might not be as extensive as the first one you did. And, you probably have better access to power than you first during your first sales cycle.
Secondly, without continued contact with the customer, you open the door to a competing solution, and you risk losing the customer altogether.
When discussing the uphill battle you had when trying to displace the incumbent, one of the major themes was, “we have a guy for that.” Now you are “the guy.” Customers are living in the status quo once again, meaning they really do not want to work with new salespeople. They would rather work future opportunities with an account manager they already trust. Since you have gone through a sales cycle, you should have established trust, right up through the most difficult trust element: proven results. You are now the incumbent!
Traps to Avoid
You have earned customer trust, and customers now place more value on your relationship—even more than they did through your sales cycle. It is easier to win new business, and it should be easy to keep competition out. Then the question becomes, why do so many salespeople neglect existing customer, and move on to the trap of chasing opportunities? There are many reasons, but they mostly fall into the following categories.
1. You have a quota to make, and your sale to this customer is done. You need to move on to the next opportunity or customer. This may seem to make sense. For instance, you have one product, and the buy cycle for this product is once every few years. In other words, you don’t have anything to sell the customer right now.
2. You have other products you can sell the customer, but you may not be comfortable with the messaging of that particular line of products. When salespeople have multiple types of products on their line card, they tend to have a great comfort level selling one category of products. Getting out of the comfort zone is not appealing to you.
3. You’re afraid the customer might have a problem or issue. This is one of the major reasons salespeople list when asked why they don’t follow up with existing customer. If they call the customer, and she has a problem with the product or service, it will mean more work to fix the problem. That leads into the last reason.
4. You are lazy. We will not spend time on this one, because only you can fix this issue.
Let’s address these one at a time, and show you why it is foolish to use these as excuses.
Starting with the first reason—you don’t have anything else to sell the customer, or you are on to the next sales, or both—you should stay in touch with the customer for many reasons. Even if you don’t plan on staying with your existing company for that long.
Remember, what is important to the customer in their buying decision is you, then company, then product. So continue to reinvest in “you.” Build your brand with the customer. Do not become the rep who the customer perceives as only showing up when a deal is on the table. Besides, you never know when a new opportunity will crop up. Maybe the customer is launching a new division needing your products. That’s why one of the major strategies you must use is to develop a relationship, and continue to develop it, before there is an opportunity. So, you need continue to build trust in the customer status quo phase. You are in a position of strength, because you only need to maintain trust, while a competitor has to work tirelessly to try to establish it. Bottom line: Put as much importance on the post-sale relationship as your customer does.
The next excuse: You are not comfortable selling other solutions your company has to offer. My answer to that is—so what? As I mentioned above, your customer would rather deal with existing salespeople and companies. Even if you are not comfortable with additional offerings, you should remain focused on customer needs anyway. This will be much easier the second or third sales cycle with a customer. You already have established trust, and most likely with this trust the customer will share more with you about their issues.
The new salesperson calling into the account is an annoyance, while you are welcomed. Do not be afraid of not fully understanding a new product your company is offering. Your customer is more concerned about their needs, not your solution. Remember that capability is a team effort. You maintain communication with the customer and use company resources to fill in knowledge gaps as necessary.
Lastly, do not be afraid of results. If the results of your solution have not been realized by the customer, then your first sales cycle is not done. It is not done until the customer gets the results they are looking for. Your goal is to keep the trust meter full. A new competitor will try to exploit areas where your trust might be weak. The greatest advantage you have are the results you have delivered. Make sure you measure the results and make sure you don’t stop until results are delivered as promised.
The Value of Problems
The best salespeople hope there is a problem with their customers. That is not a typo. Ask yourself about any customer service issue you have had. If the seller ran and hid, what was your satisfaction level? If the seller stepped up and fixed the problem, what was your satisfaction level? I bet it was better than if the solution just worked and you never engaged with the salesperson again? How do you feel when you get a courtesy call asking if you are satisfied? I bet pretty pleased. It is no different in B2B sales. You are dealing with people.
Last question, have you ever had a seller call you and say they noticed there was an issue, and they are calling you to help resolve it, even before you called them? Example: Have you ever been called about a possible fraudulent charge on a credit card? The bank calls you and says, “we noticed some suspicious activity on your account.” How, do you feel when you get that call? I bet it’s, “wow, they have my back.” Even if they did not cause the issue, they are helping to resolve it. That’s powerful. Or, you get a car recall notice in the mail. Your initial reaction might be, “what a hassle.” But, once the issue is fixed, for free, you are more confident in the car and the dealer that helped you.
Imagine you walk into an existing customer, and say, “we just went over some data with your team, and I noticed that our solution is not working quite as well as we promised. However, we are working on identifying the issue, and we won’t stop until you are satisfied.” You will have a customer for life. So, do not be afraid of bad results.
One of my favorite quotes is this: “Where there is a problem, there is an opportunity.”
You must look at it from the customer’s point of view. Your customers are emotionally committed to you and your solution. After all, the decision to purchase your product is a reflection of their due diligence. Once they have signed on the dotted line, you are more a partner than a vendor. If they have a problem, they will work with you to protect their image. If their purchase was large, their job may be at stake, so do not let them down.
Block the Competition
How do you do this? We just discussed it. Stay active with your customer.
The challenger to your incumbency is going to do one of two things.
· The challenger will build relationship before opportunity. Make this difficult by not letting the customer think they should entertain another vendor in your market segment.
· The challenger will try to penetrate the account by selling a niche solution. Figure 14-1 shows how the incumbent is using trust to gain access to your account.
Figure 14-1. Competitor positioning strategy
You may not be able to protect the far right of defensive line, but don’t let the competition exploit you on the left. If you maintain the relationship, no additional feature on their solution will unseat you. And, most importantly, don’t let your competition share with the customer a feature of your own product you have not shared with your customer. Imagine walking into an account, and they say they just purchased from your competition because their solution could do X, and yours could not. However, your solution actually can do X; you just never educated the customer about the feature.
Never forget: Customers buy because they have an issue. Your customer had an issue that could have been resolved by utilizing a feature on a solution they already own. That’s why you need to maintain the relationship—to continue educating the customer and continue to provide value and continue to ensure the problem is solved! Once the customer has bought from another company based on a problem you could have solved, you are back to square one in the trust game.
If the competition has a niche product outside your market segment, there may not be much you can do. However, if they have a niche in your segment, be aware of it and help educate the customer about ways you can do what the niche is trying to do. At a minimum, the customer will view you as informed (capability), and dedicated.
Whether you are trying to penetrate a new account, or you are the incumbent, use trust in your selling strategies. All too often we fall into the trap that the solution/product is the main differentiator, when in fact it’s the last thing the customer bases their purchasing decision on. While trust is not the only thing, without it there is no sale. Systematically think through how your customer perceives your relationship.
I believe in this book we have built a foundation and an understanding of trust, so you can systematically build and maintain trusted business relationships with your customers.
I hope you see that my intention was to help you, not to sell you something. My goal was to help you understand and put to use the capabilities and dedication you need to succeed in sales. I hope you produce the results you desire.