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.”

T.J. Tedesco is a sales growth, business strategy, marketing and PR consultant operating at the intersection of clear vision, compelling content and effective outreach practices. For nearly two decades, T.J. has been an independent consultant and sales growth team leader. Previously, he sold commercial printing, graphic arts machinery and supplies, and finishing and bindery services. T.J. helps North American companies with content development, Web and print design leadership, nurture marketing programs, sales coaching, sales team alignment and business strategy. Since 1996, T.J. has worked with more than 100 clients on retainer, 80 percent in the graphic arts industry. T.J. is author of "Win Top-of-Mind Positioning," "Playbook for Selling Success in the Graphic Arts Industry," "Fire! How Marketing Got Hot," "Direct Mail Pal" and four more books published by PIA. He can be reached at (301) 404-2244 or tj@tjtedesco.com.
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