The S.O.S. You Should Never Answer

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of April 29th)

This statement comes from personal experience both as a salesman through CEO. When you’re the one responsible for putting together agreements worth millions of dollars at a time and more, and there are many others from employees to board members depending on your acumen and insight to secure these deals, I am here to empirically state that true growth happens when you stop answering the distress calls of your competition: Save Our Salesman!

At first blush this might seem convoluted. However trust me when I tell you that many of you from the novice salesperson to experienced managers or owners, you’ll do this more often then you’ll either admit, or worse, more than you know.

Here’s a brief example: You’ve been trying for the longest time to acquire Customer X when out of the blue you receive a call personally or from your salesperson that your competition is unable to fulfill Customer X’s order and they’re in deep need of your product or service to bail them out. It’s a weekend, holiday, or some other condition that makes you the only one with the ability to help. What you do next is not only important, but I will contend separates you from mediocrity and is critical for your own survival in business.

Your response should have the following tone: “I would be happy to, but, if I do I want your business from now on. Not some portion or 50/50 split between them and us, but all.  If that’s not agreeable to you, I’m sorry. I reserve my resources for my own customers so they aren’t put in a position such as yourself. And if the company you’re currently doing business with can’t help you, and I can. Then why exactly are you going to stay with them?” I can hear most of you gasping from here. Many of you are telling yourselves that’s just crazy. What about goodwill? What about proving ourselves by how we respond? That will tick this person off and they’ll never deal with us ever! All those statements I’ve heard, and more. And I’m here to tell you from actual experience they’re hogwash and a waste of your resources.

If you rush out and bend yourself over backwards calling in favors, going the extra 100 miles to save this customer from a dilemma without getting the continuing business as a condition for your efforts. Then all you’ve done is saved you competitors salesman from doing what you are about to do. And tomorrow, or next week, or next month they’ll continue to get the sale. Not you.

If you want to be in the business of rescuing potential customers from impending disasters when other salespeople can’t there’s nothing wrong with that, and much to gain. However if you have the means to provide the life raft or lifeline that will save a customer when your competition doesn’t, why would you feel remiss on demanding the business when they clearly are putting a customer in distress? We are talking about business here, not charity on the high seas.

Save your resources and lifeboats for your own clients so they needn’t call anyone else because you’ve proven to be there when needed because they are your customers. The customer that doesn’t give you the business after you saved them was never going to be a customer of yours to begin with.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr