Monday, October 22, 2012

Sales & Account Management 101 - Words Matter

Year ago when I was working in Consulting, I assisted a major client with a Supplier Selection Project.   We had narrowed the selection down to four suppliers, including the existing service provider.   These four companies were then invited in to make Best and Final Presentations.   In what must be the worst closing statement I have every heard in a presentation, the Senior Vice President in charge of Operations from the existing supplier said, "I know our services have not been very good and that we have had some service problems, but if you stick with us, at least you know what you are getting".  As a Consulting/Sales guy, myself, I could only cringe at that closing statement.   Suffice to say, the existing supplier lost the business. 

Over the years, I have heard Sales people and Account Managers, men and women, say some of the dumbest things imaginable.  First, anything negative should be turned into an opportunity for improvement.  As such, just apologizing for poor service is not the best approach, particularly if the issue was something outside the service provider's control.  That does not mean rationalizing poor service by any means.   But, it does mean using the right words to explain the situation without casting blame on anything or anyone.  The worst possible approach is to throw the person, or sub supplier providing the service, under a bus.   The best approach is to accept personal responsibility for service issues and provide solutions to prevent the problem from happening again.  

Really good Sales people and Account Managers are effective communicators able to deal with anything said to them by a customer or client.  Complaints, bring them on because they are an opportunity to build positive relationships.  But this is a case where Words and finesse really do matter.  This is particularly the case if the client goes out to bid for services.   When that happens, the existing supplier is often at a disadvantage because while competitors have no record to defend, the existing supplier may have some issues that must be addressed as part of the supplier selection process.  When this happens, it is always important to demonstrate the things going well first, while addressing in a positive way any isolated service issues.  

In the old days, when a client went out to bid for services, it was usually because there were service problems.   That all changed in the last ten years as Procurement Departments became involved in buying services.   Today, some clients go out to bid when services are great because they are on a 3 - 5 year bid cycle managed by Procurement.  This is usually done to seek lower pricing, not necessarily because services are bad.   Sadly, this Blogger has seen clients walk away from great service to save a few bucks because there is always a supplier willing to work cheaper, or even lose money to win a big account.  Suppliers that implement this strategy to win an account, knowing upfront that they will lose money; but thinking they will be able to renegotiate the contract after the first year to higher pricing are delusional.  That strategy rarely works. 

Every interaction with a client, or customer is a business discussion, even those deemed casual during after hours activities.  Words should always be used to build relationships, while advancing company goals and objectives.  Those working in Sales and Account Management must be very careful related to discussions concerning religion, politics, family, or any other controversial topics.   Strong opinions about these topics are best avoided because they can be very divisive issues.  Stay focused on the business at hand.  Words can be very valuable and powerful tools to get the job done, which is always wider and deeper selling.   

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