Sales Management Digest

Fixing the Cracks in Customer Relationships
Rick Reynolds
Cracks in customer relationships often go unnoticed at first. While a crack may start out small, it has the potential to grow into a sizable fissure and lead to lost deals.

If you want to win more deals and retain existing accounts, you need to be on the lookout for the early warning signs of customer dissatisfaction. How do you find out if there are cracks in your relationships with your clients? Use a forensic science approach to understanding account perceptions.

Forensics is simply the process of uncovering evidence to reveal the truth. When applied to the corporate world, a forensics investigation examines the state of your client and prospect relationships. A sales forensics investigation examines why critical sales opportunities are won or lost, and an account forensics investigation uncovers potential areas of vulnerability in existing accounts to help you retain your valuable clients.

To begin the forensics process, conduct in-depth interviews with executives, managers, and employees at client and prospect companies to reveal how your company is really performing. Once you have obtained feedback from these executives, it is important to thoroughly and objectively analyze the findings to draw conclusions about what happened. Finally, you must act on what you learned.

Below are three forensics principles that can be applied to the corporate world to help executives win more deals and retain existing accounts.

1 Don't make assumptions.
Sherlock Holmes once told Watson, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." The same rule applies to business forensics. It is easy to assume why a deal is won or lost; it takes more effort to uncover facts that reveal the truth. The most common assumption made by sales professionals and executives is that a sale was lost because the price was too high. This assumption often becomes the de facto excuse used to explain why a sale or an account was lost, but actual evidence might prove otherwise.

2 Cross-validate findings.
One disgruntled client executive does not necessarily mean that the client account is at risk. On the other hand, one happy client executive does not mean the client relationship is on solid ground. To obtain an accurate picture of the overall client relationship, conduct in-depth interviews with multiple sources at the client organization. This will provide you with multiple pieces of evidence to evaluate the relationship from top to bottom.

3 Properly handle and act on evidence.
A sales and account forensics investigation will reveal your company's strengths and weaknesses; however, the data is only useful if it is applied. This is especially true when it comes to uncovering areas in need of improvement. If your client knows that you have identified cracks in the relationship after conducting an investigation, but you fail to make an effort to address the issues, it may reflect negatively on your company. Also, don't forget to properly manage your forensics archives. Regularly review past forensics investigative reports to make sure that you are following through with commitments. Combine the data from multiple client relationships to see how your company is doing on a larger scale.
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