By Paige Geddings, governor at large, Generation Next
Lee Transport Equipment Inc
This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of Generation Next Edition
It’s been a hot summer so far, but the temps pale in comparison to the urgency experienced by a lot of our clients as delivery times for completed projects stretch to industry record lengths. Brought on by a surging economic period, demand at every level - from manufacturer to upfitter - has exceeded capacity for most. While backlogs, missed promised times, and angry clients are most often thought of as a production problem, it is not solely a problem that resides in our shops. As salespeople, it is important that we understand our role in this, especially how we can lessen the frequency of client disappointment. For me, the most significant aspect is managing client expectations. Though we all know this, it can really be difficult to do on a consistent basis, especially if it may cost a sale. I would like to share a few things that work for me.
Understand client expectations up front
Of course, you listen to your client’s needs, but a lot of us are mostly focusing on the tasks they desire to perform with our products, and the design, function, and cost of our solution. It is critically important during this initial needs assessment period, that we arrive at a general understanding of lead times … up front. While this is not a positive thing in a sales situation these days, it may be the very thing that prevents a client dissatisfaction. The most valuable thing your client has is time, and it is quite frustrating for them to put forth time and effort in the early stages of a sale only to find later that delivery times make filling their need impossible. It may cost a sale, but we are in this for the long haul, and a dissatisfied client is far more costly than any single sale.
Clear and realistic timelines
It is imperative as a salesperson to remain aware of our inventories and production capabilities daily so that we can provide reasonably accurate, realistic timelines for project completion. Seems like a no brainer, but often it is a salesperson’s tendency to leave this area a bit gray to retain the sale, especially if there is a commission involved. This is the very type of short-term thinking that can easily lead to an upset client as well as jeopardize the relationship, and it must be avoided at all cost. As a rule, we always add a bit to our expected completion time to give us a small buffer.
We all know Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong it will, and admitting it is sometimes painful! No one wants to make that phone call that delivers bad news. However, the immediate notification of delays, damaged goods, or unforeseen expense - done without resorting to excuses or blame - communicates to your client that you can be trusted to be honest and up front, even when the news is not pleasant. This news should always be delivered in a phone call or face to face if possible, not by text or email. It will be appreciated, after they cool down, and it will serve to strengthen the relationship. And truthfully, if it doesn’t, this may be the one client you are better off without in the long run.
Stay in touch
With some project times stretching a year or more, it is vitally important to remain in contact with your client. Even if things are on schedule, set reminders to contact these clients on a regular basis. If you become aware of a situation that has a good potential to cause a problem with what was promised, make the client aware as soon as possible. While I realize the tendency to wait to see if the promise can be kept, the sooner you can inform your client, the less likely the situation will result in a meltdown.
Be a partner
If there is a problem, it is important once the client has expressed their feelings, that we let them know we understand the situation from their perspective, that we feel as badly as they do, and that we will work hard to help alleviate the situation. Search for possible solutions to assist them, even if it is utilizing a competitor. In time, you will develop an increasing number of possible solutions, and you should always be ready to step up on your client’s behalf. If you approach the difficult task of overcoming problems with the mindset of a true partner, it will show in your actions by default, and will not be forgotten.
Granted, there are exceptions to everything, both on our side and that of our clients. But I have found that the consistent application of these principles will more often lead you to a satisfied client, a less stressful life, and no shortage of demand, even when things slow down a bit. Remember, while the product, pricing, and delivery are all important, it is the relationship of trust with your client that must always be put first. Happy selling!