Three tips to making the difficult calls to B2B customers

June 28, 2011 - 4 minutes read

Customer Retention - Customer RelationshipThis post was inspired by a recent entry on The Sales Blog that discussed how it’s easy to do the enjoyable things. But we should also focus on the things that improve sales results. Such as resolving customer problems, hard as that is. Because problems with a customer don’t go away, unless the customer goes away.

The Sales Blog article talks about salespeople enjoying taking customers to ballgames. But this is our real-life experience with sales analytics:

When treated as a defensive strategy to keep a failing account, we have found that this socializing approach can backfire.

What? Yes! After the event, most customers subsequently further curtailed orders or reduced spend to zero with the company. We were very puzzled. Could fun actually be a catalyst to losing the account? Most likely, the difficult conversations that should have been had with those customers did not happen.

Just like the old proverb, “a stitch in time saves nine,” there is a right time for these necessary conversations. Predictive analytics can help detect patterns that identify when that first stitch is required before the relationship is torn beyond salvage.

So from our analytics view, how would we suggest making it easier for salespeople to engage in difficult conversations? Here are three ways this could be done:

Mix up the servings. Segment your customer portfolio based on buying cycle. Ensure that the salesperson is calling on all segments in some proportion that reflects both gains in immediate sales and long-term relationship. Use your CRM system to set up call blocks that are driven by analytics, to ensure consistent actions across the entire sales force.

Demonstrate the loss from not making the call. Salespeople hate leaving money on the table. To show how much could be left behind, define a customer segment to be called first, as suggested above. Then identify actual sales revenue from sales calls made previously to a similar customer segment. Use this revenue figure to establish a per-customer baseline of incremental sales generated. Multiply this figure by number of customers in your “to call first” segment. Use this to show sales reps how much revenue may be lost by not calling. You can also extend this lost revenue estimate into a longer time horizon, showing revenue lost from what would have been future repeat purchases. It adds up!

Remove the responsibility. Give the salesperson a time limit or maximum number of attempts to make the call to a priority customer identified by the analytics. For example, consider a program that reaches out to lapsed customers. This is often a difficult conversation – the rep knows the customer was a great customer at one time, the rep did not keep track and call proactively, and the customer moved to a different supplier. By removing this account from the rep’s portfolio, the account can be put into a nurturing program, given to newer reps who are more hungry, or other approaches for a fresh start.


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