"After careful consideration, we have chosen our vendor, and it’s not you.”
Hard words to hear.
That big deal, the account you have been courting for months, has fallen to someone else.
“We appreciate all the time and effort you put into your bid. It was quite professional.”
Yeah sure, they really appreciate your months of grueling work, but not enough to actually write you a check. You feel like you’ve just been elected the mayor of Loser-ville. So, what do you do now? At this crucial point, many salespeople make one of two mistakes: they either forget about this big, potential customer (and the time invested) forever or they make some desperate move that further cements their fate as the Company That Couldn’t. “Hey wait-a-second Mr. Prospect, are you really mentally prepared to give me a final no? Hello? Hello?” (Never comment on a prospect's mental health.)
One thing that separates a good salesperson from a great salesperson is the ability to become a backup vendor. In essence, positioning yourself as the secondary supplier for the account sets you up to continue to build a relationship with the client, to someday win that business. Most companies want to have depth in their supply chain. Everybody likes to have options. Few clients will deny your last request. “Sure, whatever.”
Maybe they don’t sound sincere, but they’ve just given the invitation to keep the relationship alive. Now you can go to work showing them what a great vendor you could be. One key thing to remember is to never criticize the company that won the business. If you talk bad about the winning competitor, you are criticizing the customer’s recent decision. Calling your potential customer stupid is not an effective sales tactic.
Next, find out exactly why you lost the deal. People typically don’t have much trouble telling you where you went wrong. If they balk, tell them that to be an effective backup vendor, you want to know more about their specific needs. Before long, you find out what you did wrong – and what you need to do right – to eventually get the business. Every bit of detail you discover will help you win the account one day. Look for the role you played in the failed deal.
You can also ask for referrals. You will be amazed how easy it is to get leads from a company that just told you they have chosen another vendor. Then sell to the other companies and get testimonial letters from them. Send copies and a thank you note to the company who gave the referral.
Continue to build the relationship just like you would if you were the primary vendor. Put regular ticklers for the client in your contact database (if you don’t have contact software, pick up your rotary phone next to the lava lamp and order some now) and touch base with them. Keep reminding them that you’ll be ready when they need backup.
Develop an email relationship and let them know occasionally (not every two days) how you are helping your other happy customers.
Keep building the relationship. Stock the products they use, and send updated product information. Offer solutions to any problems they may tell you about. Refer them to other companies who provide products or services you don’t. These kinds of activities will ensure that you stay on their vendor list, and you will build a reputation as a problem solver.
Be nice to everyone in the company. Someone who is not making the final decision now, could be in the future. As a matter of fact, I have seen situations where the low man on the ladder ended up as a decision-maker. I was able to get the business because I treated him with importance when he was Mr. Nobody. In another case, I discovered that the purchasing agent had been replaced, and that the new one couldn’t stand the current vendor. I have also built strong relationships with want-to-be decision-makers who move to other companies to become real buyers (guess who got the business).
Invite the client to company events and parties. Treat them just like a customer, and sooner or later, they will be.
All the while, continue to document what did not work the first time with this client, and make sure you cover your bases for the future. If your product and service is superior to the competition, hang in there. Your potential customer will be replacing parts or suffering inferior service while you start to emerge as the low risk provider.
Treat the lost customer well enough, and they’ll start to imagine how good you’d treat them if you really had their business. The company that keeps up the communication longest will eventually get the business. Practice poised consistent persistence. We had a Skybox at the Astrodome. On one occasion, I had some folks there from a company we had never sold anything to. They hung out and watched the game with all our happy customers. At the end of the day the CEO walked up to me with a plate of barbecue in his hand and said, “How come we are not buying from you?” I said, “I have no idea!” I signed them the next day. Never give up. A company once told me I would “never, ever” get their business. Never, turned out to be exactly 18 months.
© Wynn Solutions 2003
Garrison Wynn is a nationally known speaker, trainer, and consultant. He is the president and founder of Wynn Solutions, specializing in turning talent into performance. www.wynnsolutions.com Garrison@wynnsolutions.com