How to Handle Lost Business

From time to time you or your people will drop the ball. If this causes you to lose a customer, take it very seriously. Ask politely but firmly for a meeting with the most senior person on the customer’s side who had some involvement with the decision. You may have to write a letter to make this happen, since a telephone call can make you sound aggressive. Make sure the letter accepts the decision that has been made. Don’t look as though you are trying to reopen the sales campaign.

At the meeting itself try not to go defensive or argumentative. Remember, the customer has made the right decision. They are convinced of that so you may as well believe it. Actually that is not strong enough, you should believe it because it damn well is true.

The best way of ensuring the right approach is to use their terms. ‘What was your basis of decision?’, and ‘On which points did we fall down?’ will get you the information you require. Be prepared to discover customer criteria that you were unaware of during the sales campaign or during the period when you were deliver­ing product. Criteria do change, and the original decision to buy from you may have been made on grounds totally different from the current way that the customer looks at alternatives. Try to get the person to talk about your people, but do it sensitively. You do not want to have to agree implicitly with a criticism that may make it difficult to propose that that person works with the customer again.

The test of whether you have understood from the customer’s point of view what went wrong is if you are able to do a good summary of it at the end of the meeting and subsequently in writing.

So, you have finished finding out why you are on a lost business visit, and you have learned the lessons it offers, it is now time to put the boot in. I know I said that you should suggest to the senior person that you were going to reopen the cam­paign, and that probably remains good advice for most of the meeting. But towards the end you must have some way of offering to do something or to accept a consola­tion order or anything that will enable you and your company to stay in touch with the customer. Remember it is always easier to build on existing customers rather than finding new ones, so always try to get back in except, I suppose, where things have gone so wrong that there is no way that the customer will give you a fair crack of the whip. In this last case, thank the person and retire ‘bloody but unbowed.’

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About the Author: Marie Mayle is a contributor to the MegaHowTo team, writer, and entrepreneur based in California USA. She holds a degree in Business Administration. She loves to write about business and finance issues and how to tackle them.

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