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TJ Tedesco

View from Mount Olympus

By TJ Tedesco

About TJ

T.J. is team leader of Grow Sales, Inc., a marketing and social media services company operating at the intersection of compelling content, clear vision and quality communication practices. In this blog, fire is a metaphor for print. Hang on, this ride will be weird...

Prometheus crept into Mt. Olympus, stole fire, returned to the lowlands, ran from house to house distributing it, got caught, was chained to a rock, lost his liver to a huge ugly bird and was rescued by Hercules. Leveraging his fame, Prometheus started Fire Enterprises Inc.  (FEI). Since fire was the hottest technology of the time, company success came fast and furious. Two generations later, fire isn't such an easy sale. Now led by Prometheus' grandson Org, FEI's growth is non-existent, competitors are pounding and prices are in the toilet.

Honesty Is the Best Policy – Especially When Mistakes Are Made

Last week, FEI sales leader Zoot showed young salesman Ganymede one way to win back customers that have left. This week, Zoot gives his apprentice another tip for getting “lost causes” to return. Remember, fire = print.

One unseasonably warm winter morning, a high-spirited Zoot bounded into the break room to grab his morning coffee. He loved the warm weather because it meant he had many more togas to choose from. But Zoot’s mood dropped when he found Ganymede in the break room, crouched over an overturned water cooler.

“What happened?” Zoot asked with concern.

“I made a mistake,” Ganymede confessed. “I carelessly knocked over this water cooler. But don’t worry—I’ll dry the floor and bring in a new cooler, all on my own time.”

“I’m impressed with your willingness to admit your mistake and make things right,” Zoot said. “In fact, you should approach winning back customers the same way.”

“What do you mean?” Ganymede asked.

“Few salespeople are willing to approach old customers and acknowledge the mistakes that caused a previous falling-out,” Zoot explained. “Not coincidentally, few salespeople get lapsed customers to return. If you want that ‘lost customers’ list to shrink, contact them and say: ‘I know we’ve had problems in the past. But here are some steps we’ve taken to improve.’”

“Olympus Motors was once a top-10 client, but it left because we dropped too many deadlines,” Ganymede said. “When I re-approach Joe Olympus—OM’s fire buyer—I want to emphasize how FEI has become more reliable and deadline-focused.”

“Right,” Zoot said. “But you can’t just tell Joe FEI has changed—you must show him how we’ve changed. The right message is more like, ‘We have a 98-percent on-time delivery rate over the last two years, and I have the data to prove it.’ If the issue was quality, you might tell him, for instance, that we’ve hired two plant managers specifically to monitor the quality of every fire product coming off our assembly line. Statements like these will get the lost customer’s attention.”

“Another way to be honest with old customers is to send them ‘We’ve Improved’ letters,” Zoot continued. “These letters should outline exactly how FEI has improved since the falling-out. Again, touch on the past issue only briefly and in general terms—no point in dredging up bad memories—but be specific in the steps you’ve taken to rectify it. Your honesty and humility could be the deciding factor in these ex-clients giving you another chance.”

Emboldened by Zoot’s thoughts, Ganymede sifted through his lost causes file and sent out dozens of ‘We’ve Improved’ letters to past customers, including Joe Olympus. A week later, Ganymede got a call from Joe.

“It was so refreshing to get a letter like this,” Joe said. “Despite our past issues, I’m willing to throw you a quote. What’s your price for 5,000 weatherproof torches, and how quickly can you get them to us?”

Ganymede had learned a valuable lesson. Success—in business and elsewhere—is determined in great part not by whether you avoid mistakes altogether, but by whether you learn from them and change appropriately.

Today’s FIRE! Point

Take a shot and ask lost customers for another crack at their printing work. If mistakes were made in the past, acknowledge them and let lost customers know how your company’s services have improved. Your honesty and humility could be the deciding factor in these ex-clients giving you another chance.

FIRE! in Action: Recaptures Latent Subscribers with Winback Program
The job search company identified why subscribers had stopped using its site and crafted a winback campaign that targeted these lapsed subscribers based on this information. The results? Ten percent of those subscribers returned to using the program.

Next week: Zoot and Ganymede discuss a last strategy for winning back lost customers.

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