Will Robinson from the old science fiction television show Lost in Space always knew when there was trouble headed his way because the Robot would alert him and announce frantically, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone around to tell you when your sales were in danger? The good news is that you don’t need a robot. These are the tell-tale signs that you are in trouble—make sure you know how to spot them.
Danger sign #1: The presence of a competitor’s product
Imagine you are working with one of the users of your product at a customer’s location. You’re in their product storage and handling area, and you happen to notice a container of a competitor’s product that is equivalent to one of the products you are already selling to this customer. The Robot would be saying his famous phrase right about now. You’ll be in trouble if you ignore a danger sign like this.
It’s not typical to suddenly lose business. When a customer decides to change products, it’s normally a thoughtful business decision. Making that decision often requires proof of performance, meaning that the customer will carefully evaluate a competitor’s product before making the change.
So when you see a competitive product at your customer’s place of business, you had better start asking questions. Why is it there? Who asked for it? Was there a problem with your solution? What are they looking for? What was the result?
You are in trouble if you don’t do anything, or if you don’t get answers to your questions.
Danger sign #2: Not hearing feedback from customers
What could be worse than an important customer evaluating a competitor’s product? Worse would be not knowing they were doing this. So why wouldn’t you know? It could be because you don’t have connections to anyone outside the purchasing department. Or you don’t know any of the users of your product or influencers who make decisions about your product’s performance.
All good salespeople should know how their products are performing. That means they speak directly—not through a third person—to the people who use their products. They are hearing what customers like, what they don’t like, and what could be improved. These conversations are early warning signals for learning about any small problems that could become bigger problems down the road.
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Just remember, even if you sell a product to a customer and the product is working well, there could be a dissatisfied user out there who just happens to also be an important influencer. This person could sabotage your efforts by saying negative things about the performance of your product. And even if these negative things aren’t true, the damage will have been done.
On the other hand, you can avoid trouble if you keep in touch with people who use your products to get early warnings if there are any problems. And if you get warnings, dig deeper and address them.
Danger sign #3: Your customer contact is replaced
Any time there is staffing change with a customer, it can be looked at as a moment of both opportunity and danger. Sometimes the arrival of a new person can provide salespeople with a positive opportunity to sell more, but it’s also a danger signal if your current customer leaves the company and is replaced with a new hire. Many new managers like to make changes simply to exert their authority, and one such change is often bringing in a supplier they know and have done business with in the past. That supplier might not be you. This may not be fair, but it often happens.
If there’s a new hire at a client company, you may need to prove yourself to them to keep the business. Are you prepared to do that? Do you have physical proof of the work you’ve already done with the company to reduce a cost, avoid a cost, or help the company make money? Just remember that what you say isn’t proof; it’s only proof if the results you’ve delivered are in writing. Have you documented proof of performance? Hopefully, you’ve already been doing this so you have the documentation at your fingertips to present to the new person. With it you have a chance to prove that should keep their business if your new customer is open-minded and fair.
President John F. Kennedy understood danger well when he said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.” For all the dangers Will Robinson and the Robot face, things always turned out OK. If you learn to stay alert to the danger signs and use them to pursue lucrative new selling opportunities, your sales will be out of this world.
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