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5-Minute Sales Coach: Your best customer may be your competitors’ best prospective client

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By Bill McCrary

Sometimes we focus so much on new clients that we overlook the old clients. The latest data shows that it costs five times as much to find and close a new client as it does to hang on to an old one. So put a plan in place to retain your clients.

I don’t mention it very often, but the tips and techniques I advocate in this column are just as effective for retaining existing clients as they are for winning new sales.

McCraryFor example, one crucial step in qualifying a prospect is to ask what the prospect likes about his current provider, and then to gently steer the conversation toward what he might not like about them.

Don’t you want to know what your current clients like about doing business with your company? Isn’t that extremely valuable information? Of course it is. On the flip side, if your company or your salespeople are messing things up somehow, don’t you want to know that as soon as possible?

So, coach your salespeople to plan a few moments in the course of their conversations with clients in which they can have a focused discussion about what’s going well and what’s not.

It might sound like this:

Rep: “Hey Matt, I never take the opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate the work we’re doing together. I’d be curious, can I ask you a couple of questions to kind of see where we are? Looking back at last year, did we do anything that worked? Did we do anything that you thought was valuable?”

Now the client will (hopefully) share something that they value about working with your salesperson:

Client: “Yes, Tom, your people provided good customer service; you’ve been very good responding to our needs in the field.”

Rep: “Good, I appreciate that! On the other hand, nobody’s perfect, right? My guess is that we’ve dropped the ball somewhere along the line. What’s going on that I need to know about so that I can fix it for you?”

Client: “Well, it would be great if we could see a little improvement in X . . .”

Rep: “Matt, thank you so much for sharing that with me. Can I ask you a couple of questions about that? . . . ”

Remind your salespeople that they should ALWAYS be looking for pain, even with their own clients! Seeking out clients’ opinions of your company’s performance will allow your reps to discover problems early and address them quickly. (And chances are, those clients are also going to have a lot of good things to say, which will give your reps a moment to bask in the glow of a few kudos, or, more importantly, lay the groundwork for a well-deserved referral. We’ll save that topic for another day.)

Okay, now let’s explore how your salesperson can steer the conversation toward future projects. Why? So that the client will envision your company doing the work!

Rep: “Matt, I really appreciate all that input. Now, could we take a look at next year? What do we need to focus on so that we continue to do well for you and stay on schedule?”

Client: “Well, Tom, if you keep doing the good things you’re doing, if we can get a little improvement with X, then I think we should be just fine.”

Rep: “Great. Okay, looking ahead to those same jobs, what could happen to mess it up? What can we pay particular attention to, to keep from messing it up?”

Do you see what’s happening in this example? The client is not only picturing your company doing the work. They’re also telling your salesperson exactly how your company needs to do that work to keep getting more of it. (And hopefully they’re building confidence in your ability to execute that specific work. By the way, they’re trying to keep clients too!)

Coach your team members to get their clients talking. Identify any problems, both past and present, and fix them before it’s too late. And help them envision you in their future plans.


Bill McCrary, a speaker, coach and trainer, founded Strategic Partner, an authorized Sandler Training Center, in 1997. He can be reached at 803-771-0800,

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