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Win Back Lost Accounts
Selling Power Editors

Sales are good, your pipeline is full, and your customers are happy. Or so you think. Then one day, a key customer decides to go with another company. Something's gone wrong.

What should your response be? For starters, don't panic. If handled correctly, you might actually be able to win the account back. But even if this business is gone forever, this is an opportunity to gain valuable feedback that can actually help you build a stronger sales team.

The very first thing you should do is arrange a conference call, video chat, or face-to-face meeting with the client so you can find out where you went off track. The account may have been lost due to any number of reasons: a competitor's new product, delivery problems, billing errors, or pricing issues. Whatever the case, your objective should be to hear your client's side of the story and take responsibility for letting things get to this state.

While asking probing questions to find out why the customer decided to jump ship, you should also be taking notes to find out what you might be able to do to win back this customer's business. Take these notes back to your team and start crafting a win-back strategy. Include a summary of the initial relationship with the customer, a statement of fact about what caused the customer's defection, a summary of the new needs of the customer, and a commitment to make sure history doesn't repeat itself.

If the plan is accepted, recognize that you'll have to work harder than ever to restore trust and credibility. Do your best to exceed the customer's expectations. For example, if you promise delivery by Wednesday at 5:00 p.m., deliver on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. Each interaction is a show of faith that you're committed to putting the customer first.

If the plan isn't accepted, consider that you might need to bring in someone else from your team (maybe even your CEO or marketing director) to speak with the customer. You can also start taking small bites to get the business back. Announce any new or exciting changes in your company (like product upgrades, price breaks, or expanded services) that might benefit the customer or help his or her business grow.

Never at any stage of winning back lost accounts should you attack or denigrate the competition or challenge the customer's reason for leaving. Not only does this sound like sour grapes, it doesn't do anything to restore faith and trust.

In short, determine what you've done wrong and mistakes you've made, and outline what you can do to make it right. Even if you don't win back the business, this level of introspection will help you grow and avoid making similar missteps with other clients.

Tips are based in part on a conversation with the founder of The Brooks Group.

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