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How to Restart the Sales Conversation with Former Customers and Lost Prospects

How to Restart the Sales Conversation with Former Customers and Lost Prospects

One of sales’ truisms is that you won’t win every deal. Nor is even the longest-lasting buyer-seller relationship cast in the eternal bonds of union. Invariably come the losses, both during the sales process and after that initial victory. Yet, those misfortunes need not be permanent. There’s always chance and opportunity for the tide to reverse yet again. But sometimes, it’s hard to know how and when to begin – particularly if you yourself played a role in the inciting rejection or departure.

  1. Make time on your schedule for reconnecting.

    Salespeople can focus too much of their attention on new prospects and customers. While business development and fresh leads are important and a vital part of sustained success, revisiting lost deals and clients is also critical. In many cases, it also represents a more efficient use of resources.

    The reason why is because in a new relationship, it takes more time and energy to establish and nurture the connection. In contrast, even with a sale you didn’t get, or a contract that was cancelled, there’s prior history and familiarity to build on.

    Consider it in terms of the difference between growing an apple tree from seed versus one that’s already started in a nursery and has rootstock. A rootstock apple tree will take from 2-6 years to bear fruit, depending on the size (dwarf, semi-dwarf, or standard). Grown from a seed, that number jumps to 6-10 years – anywhere from almost double to triple the time. While the length factor might not be as large in sales, the same basic principle applies.

  2. Determine why the customer left.

    Before you can figure out how to win back a customer, you need to know why they walked away from a deal or left you as a client. If you were the sales rep when they went with someone else, you might have some idea already. If you weren’t, then you probably don’t (unless one of your colleagues remembers the circumstances).

    The possibilities are seemingly endless: perhaps another vendor was better suited to the customer’s needs at the time, or maybe it came down to budget. It could be that after your organization won the contract, they fell down on servicing the account or there was a personality conflict between the buyer and the account manager that couldn’t be resolved.

    Regardless of the cause, you need to reach out to the customer and find out why – even if you think you know the reason. After all, your interpretation of what happened could be very different from the customer’s viewpoint. And it’s only by becoming aware of the latter that you can start thinking of remedies or ways to demonstrate how things have changed since the last time.

    Discovery could involve conversation (email, in-person, by phone) or a satisfaction survey, or some combination of multiple approaches, depending on the situation and the customer’s communication preferences. As you re-establish contact, always keep in mind that you’re restoring your and the organization’s credibility as a Trusted Advisor.

    Avoid becoming defensive or making excuses – this is about dispassionately diagnosing what went awry in the past and figuring out the solutions needed to pave the path for a better future.

  3. Show what’s different now and present your solutions.

    Once you’ve established the source of the lost business, you can proceed with trying to win it back. The precise course you take will depend on the situation, of course, but in general, you’ll be doing two things.

    First, you’ll be showing what’s different now. Maybe your company is larger now and better able to handle the size of accounts you’ve previously lost. Perhaps you’ve developed new products that address needs. There might be updated polices and corrective training to provide better post-contract service. It could be something as simple as new people involved in the discussions offering a fresh start.

    Regardless of what’s changed, you’ll also be presenting solutions. This is true of every sales process, but you’ll be grafting the solutions onto the difference in circumstances.

    As an example, let’s say you work for a uniform supplier and are talking to a former client who cancelled the contract because defects in the manufacturing process led to excess returns or reorders. Since the client left, your organization has upgraded the machines used in manufacturing to fix the defects.

    You could say something like “I realize that you left because of having to make too many returns of flawed uniforms. In the last two years, we’ve replaced our equipment to correct that issue. Since that time, our reported defects and returns have decreased by 95%, proving that we’ve found and solved the initial problem.”

While you won’t be able to win back everyone, taking the time to revisit previous customers, find out why they went another direction, and being able to describe and prove the changes that remedy previous problems is valuable. It often leads to quick sales than new customer acquisition and provides evidence of your personal growth as a sales rep and the improvement of your company and products.