A simple question can keep a client

Undoubtedly, you've had a client who always returned your calls, was happy to see you anytime and regularly bought your product or service. This client was one of your company's biggest advocates and was happy to provide a positive recommendation on a moment's notice.

However, one day when you called her, she didn't take your call. You tried again many times, and seemingly out of the blue, she still wouldn't take your calls. Your gravy train has run dry.

What do you do?

It's been my experience that a client doesn't just "go bad."

Just as winning over a client is a process, except in rare circumstances, so is losing a client. And when I refer to "bad," I don't mean the person has become a bad or deceitful person. I'm referring to him no longer buying your product or service.

The possible reasons are many, including: a competitor has sold him on the superior functionality of their offering; his budget was cut; company management has mandated he buy from a partner company; he doesn't view your product or service as mission critical; he can no longer articulate how your product or service is superior to your competitors; she can't quantify the value her company is receiving from your offering.

Without exception, the most important time to combat this situation is well before it happens. However, as we've all done, I'm sure you've been guilty on occasion of spending too long in a comfort zone for which you've paid dearly down the line.

Perhaps you became a little too complacent with an account because you had made a strong personal friendship with your client, and therefore, quit selling your company as fully as possible at every opportunity. Or maybe sales became so regular and predictable that you moved away from being a professional salesperson and trusted business counselor to a mere order taker, only contacting the customer for the renewal or reorder.

Regardless of the reasons, the shock was likely immense. And rather than assigning blame, finger pointing, or embarrassing yourself by scrambling to get the business back, it's important to learn the single most important thing you can do to do avoid this from happening again.

Don't let the simplicity of this technique fool you as many of the most well-intentioned salespeople fail to use it, yet it's power is unwavering.

The single most important thing you can do to help avoid the negative consequences of losing a client is to ask this simple question every time you call on her:

"Has anything changed?"

That's it.

Let me share an example of the power of this question.

Several years ago, I was calling on a client in Los Angeles with whom I had built strong rapport. However, I had much difficulty securing a meeting with this executive, which was contrary to my past experiences.

Finally, after numerous weeks of trying, I reached him on the phone and asked if we could just meet for coffee as friends, and not discuss business unless he wanted to. He agreed, and when we met, I relayed the difficulty I had in contacting him which had me concerned. I told him this was out of character for him and then asked, "Has anything changed personally, or professionally, that's caused this stress?"

He went on to say that his company had just been sold and that he didn't want to disappoint me by having to tell me that all training was being postponed indefinitely. Plus, he had to fly to San Francisco to inform his sales team of the sale and the elimination of several of their positions. This was a very stressful time for him, yet had I focused solely on my desires, I would have been viewed as another in a line of vendors who had self-serving motives during his turmoil and lost him as a client for good.

I'm happy to write that a year later, after everything had calmed, he contacted me again to conduct training and became an even more lucrative client than before.

As he acknowledged, this happened because I cared enough to ask, "Has anything changed?"

It's a quirk in a human nature that people become complacent with the status quo and begin taking hard fought victories for granted. In sales this is reflected in a salesperson spending far more time trying to win over a potential "gold mine" prospect rather than catering to, and continually selling, her "gold nugget" clients.

One of the greatest human needs is the need to feel valued and appreciated.

Take a personal and professional interest in your prospects and sincerely ask them, "Has anything changed?" at every opportunity. Your concern and courtesy will not only alert you to the yellow flags that may turn red if left unnoticed, but will also separate you from the competition by reaffirming why he is choosing to do business with you and your company.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.