When Things Don’t Go According to Plan 
- by Kelly Riggs

Stay in the sales business for any length of time and you will inevitably experience failure. No, not your failure – someone else’s failure. You will have plenty of opportunities to fall short yourself, but nothing is more frustrating that to do it all right and have someone else drop the ball. A product ships wrong. There is an error on the invoice. A deadline is missed. Tech support drops the ball.

Stuff happens. If it hasn’t yet, it will.

The worst-case scenario is when failure occurs very early in your relationship with the customer. Despite your best sales efforts initially, customers will typically have a range of skepticism built into the decision-making process. They may decide to make a change and buy from you, but they are holding their breath and crossing their fingers, hoping that things go well and their decision to use you will be justified in the end.

In fact, selling is a lot like a blind date – you really need to make a good impression the first time around. Once your date gets to know you and like you, he or she is less likely to be offended by something you do. Unfortunately, a big mistake on the first date probably means “no sale.”


The Strength of Relationships

“In sales and customer relations, the quality of your relationships will determine the outcome of events when there is a problem or issue with price, delivery, quality, or service.”

Jeffrey Gitomer

“Relationship” might be the most misunderstood concept in selling. Some reps think several calls, a couple of boxes of doughnuts, and a conversation or two constitutes a “relationship.” Sadly, they are mistaken. Unfortunately, a customer may even be buying your products and you may not have a relationship. A relationship means that someone is comfortable with you and, more importantly, they trust you. That trust leads them to ask for your help. To seek your opinion. To consider your expertise. And to give you a break when things don’t go according to plan.

According to research done by H.R. Chally, one of the primary things that customers want from salespeople if for them to “own” the problems they encounter with the salesperson’s products or services. When they have issues, they want to know that you will handle it. They don’t want you to go missing in action, or blame someone else in the company, or pass the buck. They just want the problem solved.

Take it to the bank. Products get shipped wrong. Quality issues arise. Service falls short. We don’t like it, and we do everything we can to prevent it, but mistakes happen. Those are the times when you can count on your reputation and your relationship to overcome the issue. Once the customer knows you and trusts your motives, it is much more likely that you can resolve the situation and retain a profitable business relationship.


What to Do?

So, if doughnuts and sales calls don’t necessarily build a relationship, what does? How do you build a relationship that overcomes the occasional mistake and prevents a customer from considering a competitor?

Here are five things that are non-negotiable, and must be done consistently:

Follow through. Do what you say you will do – every single time.

Be responsive. Return messages and phone calls promptly.

Manage your product or service implementation carefully.  Be available when it counts. Make all of your resources available during this critical time.

Know your customer’s business. Understanding leads to trust. The more you understand the customer’s Big Picture, the better positioned you are to offer solutions to problems.

Keep your customer up to date. Never take things for granted. Keep your customer informed of new products and any changes in your industry. If they get critical information from a competitor, it could spell big trouble.

Problems are inevitable. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. When lightning strikes, do you have a relationship that will allow you to weather the storm?


Author Bio:

Kelly Riggs is the founder and president of Vmax Performance Group, a business performance improvement company located in Broken Arrow, OK. Widely recognized as a powerful speaker and dynamic trainer in the fields of leadership, sales development, and strategic planning, Kelly is an author, speaker, and business performance coach for executives and companies throughout the United States.

A national award-winning sales representative and sales manager, Kelly has spent the last fifteen years teaching and training organizational leaders in sales and executive management. He is a Registered Corporate Coach with the World Association of Business Coaches (WABC), and currently serves as a leadership and business development trainer for the Associated General Contractors and the Construction Leadership Council (Oklahoma). He has also appeared before a subcommittee of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives to present “Factors That Impact Employee Engagement and Performance.”

Kelly has written extensively for numerous industry publications, and his first book, “1-on-1 Management™: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t,” was released in 2008. His second book, “1-on-1 Selling™: How to Win More Sales, Defend Your Margins, and Build Your Brand,” will be published in 2012.