Difficult calls to save at-risk B2B customers – how to make them easier

Customer Retention

This post was inspired by a recent discussion on The Sales Blog about how it’s easy to do the enjoyable things. Of course! But some things that improve sales results can be more difficult to do. We need to do those things too. Such as resolving tough customer problems, hard as that is to do.

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. However, sales analytics that we’ve done for Fortune 500 sales teams found this surprising result:

When treated as a defensive strategy to keep a failing account, we 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? We hope not! Who wants to not have fun?

Most likely, the difficult conversations that should have happened 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 show when that first stitch is required – before the relationship is torn beyond salvage.

So how can you make it easier for salespeople to raise the difficult conversations?

Here are three tips:

1. Mix up the servings

Segment your customer portfolio based on buying cycle. Ensure that the salesperson calls 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.

2. Show the potential loss from not making the call

Salespeople hate leaving money on the table. To show how much money could be left behind, follow these steps:

  • 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, to show revenue lost from what could have been future repeat purchases. It adds up!

3. Remove the responsibility

Give the salesperson a time limit or maximum number of attempts to call 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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