The customer who let your contract lapse or failed to include you in their selection process did so for any number of reasons. Yes, sometimes your company made an unforgivable mistake or did something equally fatal. Often, it’s subtler. Either way, if you give up on them, they’re likely to remain former customers forever.
If you take the initiative and reintroduce yourself, you might find out-
- Your company was perceived to be unsuitable for a reason that is not currently valid. (Your prices weren’t competitive; now they are. You didn’t offer a one-stop-shop experience; now you do. The salesperson who used to cover that territory was abrasive; his/her replacement is well-liked.)
- Or the decision-maker who blackballed you or was unshakably loyal to your competitor is no longer there.
- Or the person who used to routinely include you in the company’s selection process has moved up or moved on, and the new person doesn’t know you to include you.
Possible outcomes: a renewed relationship, news that you truly aren’t a match anymore, or a frosty shoulder.
Similarly with failed sales, they may not have chosen you when a particular decision was made. That doesn’t mean they’d never consider you again, but it’s your responsibility to stay on their radar. If they are marketed to by a sufficient number of companies in your category, they might not include you the next time they open their selection process. By writing them off, you turn “no” into “never.”
Some companies are very good about asking departing customers for an exit interview and asking failed sales for a post-selection debriefing. Unfortunately, many of these companies assign this task to the salesperson or account manager the customer or prospect just rejected. That’s cruel! Think about it:
- It’s very difficult for one adult to say directly to another, “This is how you disappointed me,” or “This is where you fell short.”
- If a former customer or failed sale is willing to be candid, the average salesperson or account manager is likely to get defensive in response. In other words, they reward candor with an argument.
Instead, feedback from lost customers and failed sales is better solicited from the VP of Sales or Account Management (or Operations). What at first blush sounds like an unwise use of very valuable time turns out to be the best way to isolate root causes and reduce the number of future lost customers and failed sales.
You may ask why a former customer or failed sale would cooperate and offer honest responses to these questions. The answer is simple:
Companies need vendors.
If you lost the customer or the sale for reasons that can be addressed to their satisfaction, you might be the vendor that offers the best deal the next time they need your product or service.
Once your team members get past the understandable discomfort of asking for candid feedback and guidance, you might win (or win back) relationships you thought were lost forever.
Ann Amati, Principal, Deliberate Strategies Consulting, helps companies use guidance from their current and past customers to grow future sales. She has a 20-year track record of using deep-dive interviews to create positive turning points in her clients’ relationships with their customers.