This is the fifth in a series of 15 blog posts on my most effective sales tactics.

It shares the reasons your customers leave and 3 questions you can ask to stop them from leaving.

The questions I’m about to share were originally created to help salespeople who just took over an account, or a territory, to keep and grow the biggest and best accounts they take over.

Recently I learned of statistic from a Chatham Partners report that said 28% of vendor switches are triggered by a change in account managers.

The Satisfaction Formula

Finding, keeping, and growing customers is all about meeting or exceeding their expectations.

When an incumbent vendor and their sales person’s performance meets or exceeds a customer’s expectations, satisfaction is the result and that decision-maker tends to stick with the status quo.

The moment a decision-maker’s expectations exceed a vendors performance or a salesperson’s performance or the performance of the product or service they use, they become dissatisfied, enter the Window of Dissatisfaction, and start thinking of changing.

Let me represent the above with a simple formula:

Performance > Expectations = Satisfaction

Expectations > Performance = Dissatisfaction

Just because there’s misalignment between what customers want and what they’re getting doesn’t mean all is lost.

When you learn of this dissatisfaction, before your competition does, you have a chance to fix things before the competition even realizes there’s an opportunity.

What Triggers Performance to Go Down?

The most common event that triggers a sales person’s performance to go down is when a new salesperson takes over an account.

When a new salesperson takes over an account, they don’t understand the expectations of the customer, so they are more likely to disappoint them and put the customer into the Window of Dissatisfaction.  AND because the new salesperson does not have a strong or long-standing relationship, the customer is less likely to complain and more likely to switch vendors.

What Triggers Expectations to Go Up?

On the other side of the equation, the most common event that triggers an increase in expectations of a decision-maker is when there is a change in decision-makers. Keep in mind it’s not just elevated expectations but sometimes completely different expectations.

The sooner you understand and meet or exceed these elevated expectations, the less likely you are to lose a key account and the more likely to find ways to displace the competition and grow your top accounts.

The Three Questions

  1. What did my predecessor do that I need to keep doing?
  2. What do my/our competitors do that we need to start doing?
  3. What does nobody do that you wish everybody did?

It’s important to realize that your customers’ expectations are not just created by you. Often, their expectations are created by the experiences they have with your competition or even personal experiences outside of their day-to-day work activities.

Who Should You Ask?

Start at the top of the organization and work down to get an accurate understanding of satisfaction reading. Ask the C-suite first, followed by financial influencers, technical influencers, and eventually end-users.

I started asking the above questions to my new-to-me clients in the mid 90’s, and one answer to question 3 kept coming up again and again: “When I send you an email with a request, send me an email letting me know you got my request and when I should expect a response.”

At the time, email was just beginning to be used by some of my biggest and best accounts; it turns out that when my contacts at these accounts sent me emails but were unsure if they got through or if I took too long to respond, they would email the other people on their list. With everyone’s spam filters turned up to eliminate as much spam as possible, I think this answer is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.

By sending customers a quick response to let them know I received their email and was working on getting them an answer meant that, in many cases, my competitors did not learn of the opportunity and I was able to keep and grow my biggest and best customers.

In the last 20 years I’ve learned these three questions should also be asked when:

  1. There is a new decision-maker at an account, or someone becomes the boss of your primary contact at an account. E.g. a new CIO replaces your old CIO contact OR a new CIO joins a company where your primary contact is the VP of technology.
  2. A decision-maker you know leaves and joins a different company. Read my last blog post <link> to learn how this creates four separate high-value sales opportunities (link to last blog post).
  3. The incumbent vendor’s salesperson moves on and there is a new salesperson on the account.

If you ask the questions early, during each of the four times mentioned (read the third sentence  again if you only caught three), not only will you keep and grow your best customers, you’ll create loyal, profitable customers who will gladly give you testimonials and, if you ask for them, referrals.

How to get the referrals that have a higher close rate is the next topic for this series of blog posts.

Have an eventful month!