Growing your business is hard enough as it is. So of course the last thing you need is to worry about steady, reliable customers leaving you for no reason.
Here’s the thing; your customer could be sending you a message that could be a precursor to jumping ship. It’s up to you to notice that message and act on it before they’re gone. The good news is there is a way to spot these opportunities before they lead to trouble.
At best, about five percent of what they are actually thinking is on display at any given time.
Even the most loyal customers have reasons for keeping you in the dark. Perhaps they’re worried you will take advantage of their business. Maybe they’re also in talks with another salesperson and trying to keep it quiet. So they closely cling to their cards and say what you want to hear. Right until it’s too late for you to do anything about it.
But customers often drop hints that something’s wrong. These seemingly throwaway remarks are similar to icebergs: On the surface, they don’t seem like much to worry about. But, in reality, trouble lies just below the surface.
In business, there is no such thing as an offhand remark. Any comment that relates to the existing relationship, the customer’s operations, or your products and services requires your immediate, undivided attention.
Even more troubling, “conversational icebergs” often are buried in seemingly positive comments. Maybe your buyer is trying to avoid confrontation or soften the insult, so they bury the criticism alongside some good words. For sales professionals, it can be easy to listen to the flattering remark and miss the actual meaning.
Conversational icebergs generally come in the form of statements like these:
- “Your software is really powerful. I wish the user interface was a little easier to understand, but overall it was good.”
- “The new equipment works fine. It’s just that some of my people are really low-tech. We’ll have to spend a lot of time training them.”
- “Though your prices are a little high, I told my supervisor we appreciate your great service.”
- “I’m going to get your invoice paid as soon as possible. Accounting just needs to see an itemized list of your charges.”
Each of these statements has concerns embedded within them, which could easily be overlooked. But when you do spot them, it’s time to drop everything and mend the underlying difficulty. Some examples:
- “You said the user interface could be easier. What kinds of problems are you encountering?”
- “You said some of your people will need training? Is that something we need to address?
- “Help me understand why your boss thought our prices are too high.”
- “I’ll be happy to provide Accounting with that itemized backup. But they never asked for it before. What’s up?”
Of course, sometimes you’ll need to go looking for conversational icebergs. How can you do that? By sending out signals, or pings, and listening to the response.
Pings are proactive: They come from you – not your customer.
You send them out and listen for a response. Here are some examples:
- “We just sent you our first invoice – I just want to confirm it included all the information your accounting department needed.”
- “In the past, we have allowed three business days to ensure prompt delivery times. Is this still sufficient to meet your demands?”
- “I understand YOU recognize our value proposition, but is your boss on the same page with this? Should we explain it to him in further detail?”
Of course, you should not dwell on the downfalls or ping your buyers too often. You also don’t want to solicit vague questions such as “Are we doing well?” But asking specific questions designed to ensure customers are receiving what they want or anticipate can help you avoid disaster.