History of a Lost Account
If you look around at your competition you can pick up valuable insights as to how and why you might lose a valued account. In Connecticut, there was a smaller operation that competed against our firm. We were larger and a more efficient company, had the inventory and a professional staff to make anyone competing against us work hard for any accounts earned. Yet he succeeded to a moderate degree, he did earn customers’ loyalty and their trade without the staff or inventory that made us the dominant player in that market.
How? I discovered that he trained his sales staff and measured the results against his expectations. He never turned a sales staffer loose with specials and a hope that they would sell, he mandated that each call made was logged and information (data for you millennials) on every account was recorded. The account owner, his/her name, the spouse’s name, kids, hobbies, birthdays…were all logged and noted. Each call had a purpose, what was discussed, sold, declined, and the business goals were all recorded.
A weekly review was held going over the calls and the information gathered.
By the way….this was all done before cell phones, tablets, and laptops (items considered essential sales tools today)
So what, what’s the big deal with all this info gathering? This was a pain in the tuchas for the sales team and it really didn’t add to their ability to sell…did it?
The point was that sales at any and every level is still a person to person relationship. The more you know about someone’s business and the more interest you show in them as a person (and not just a potential sale) the more likely you will understand their needs and become a trusted source for them. Building relationships is building trust, you buy from those you trust!
Great info right? So where’s the Lost Account story? Did that competitor earn so much business that I had lost accounts walking away?
Nope, as I stated, the company I worked for was efficient, had an awesome inventory and a professional staff second to none. Our competitor survived when I didn’t think he could. He prospered when I didn’t think he would.
What he did was teach me lessons on relationships, trust and being a salesperson that thought about each account, not as a target or sale but as a partner.
Fast forward to the day my sales team member did lose an account and couldn’t tell me why we lost it. There was the usual “our prices are too high”, “we can’t deliver fast enough for him” and the ever popular “our product must have some issues cause he won’t use them anymore”.
What was the problem? This account had been buying and stocking our premium brake pads for years. Suddenly he stopped and switched to a competitors brand (yep, cheaper….so “our price is too high”) without warning.
This accounts shop was a 25 minute run to deliver product to and he had always stocked parts for his convenience and weekend sales. On rare occasions he needed product fast and on those occasions we made him a priority. Did we ever take longer than the 25 minutes? Yep, I’m sure we did but not often enough to become an issue. The “we can’t deliver fast enough to him” was too easy an excuse but it wasn’t a valid excuse.
So what was the problem? I went out to the account to talk with the owner personally. It turns out that the owner was turning over the business to his son-in-law and there was a new relationship that we had not developed with the son-in-law.
The problem I discovered, was that the son-in-law believed our brake pads were creating a lot of comebacks. Switching to another (cheaper) product line had cut back on the issues although it hadn’t eliminated them altogether.
I got together with the account salesman and started asking questions.
- Had anything besides the son-in-law taking over change in the previous 6 months?
- What were the complaints/comebacks based on?
- Did we get warranty returns that we could review?
- Had the Brake Rep been out to see them?
After recovering warranty product from the shop, I checked the pads for potential visible issues. Measuring the pads across the profile from bottom to top indicated the top of the pads were wearing away at a faster rate than the bottoms. In several cases there was no wear at all on the bottom portion of the pad. This created a V pattern in the face of the friction material if you held the 2 pads together.
I asked our salesman to take a new brake rotor to the account and have them cut it for us. It was only after he returned did he mention that he noticed they had a new brake lathe and 2 new employees.
Did the light bulb go off yet?
I called the lathe sales rep up and asked if he would visit the account to check on the lathe as we had just had a rotor cut and it literally looked like a V shape from bottom to top. He agreed and after his visit, he discovered that the employees had been using the lathe without tightening down the cutting bit holders. This let the bits back off progressively as each cut was made, leaving a V shape cut. He reviewed with the employees proper techniques and checked the lathe over. He also discovered they were using the wrong bits (leftovers from a competitor’s old unit traded in) and replaced them with the correct bits. After that the lathe cut smoothly and accurately. The results were a complete elimination of comebacks on brake jobs and they were turning jobs quicker.
This was a long way to illustrate that you should never accept the standard:
- Your price is too high
- Your service is too slow
- Your products aren’t what they should be
What you should be cultivating is
- A partner in every account.
- Awareness of what’s happening in those shops you service.
- The skills to see why products fail – and not just the skills to write a warranty tag.