Sales, like all professions that involve human interaction, is based on relationships. Good relationships mean good business, and bad relationships mean the opposite. A salesperson who is able to navigate the complexities of the human spirit will thrive, while the salesperson who pays no attention to how others are feeling will find their chances at a successful career to be limited by their lack of empathy.
Since relationships play such a crucial role in the profession, it’s no surprise that things can sometimes go sour, leaving you or your customer angry, upset, or in a generally bad state. Putting aside who might be at fault for this rift, knowing how to salvage a business relationship that’s gone cold can be incredibly useful, even if this skill rarely needs to be put into practice.
So how does one repair a relationship with a prospect or customer that’s gone sour? Here are five steps you can take to get things back on track:
1. Acknowledge the issue
Ignoring a problem rarely makes it go away, so it’s important to open (or reopen) the lines of communication and acknowledge what went wrong. Depending on the issue, this could be an unpleasant conversation, but if you want to close deals and maintain relationships, you need to suck it up and learn how to face uncomfortable conversations head on. Acknowledge what went wrong and take responsibility even if you don’t think you’re at fault. The customer isn’t always right, but your objective is to close deals and you can’t do that when you and the person on the other end of the phone are at odds. So make sure to acknowledge the problem in a courteous and professional way. After all, you can win the argument or you can win the deal, but you generally can’t do both.
2. Listen to the prospect/customer’s point of view
When trying to salvage a relationship that’s gone off the rails, you should make it a point to talk less and listen more. Ask your customer to explain their point of view and really try to put yourself in their shoes. Sometimes it’s a simple misunderstanding, and other times, you might realize that your words or actions were not as innocuous as you may have thought. In any case, let the prospect tell you how they feel, and make an effort to understand their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. Showing that you’re willing to listen and want to understand the other side can go a long way in rebuilding a relationship.
3. Set expectations for moving forward
After you’ve acknowledged the problem and taken the time to understand the other person’s point of view, you should come up with a plan for moving forward. Since things are already precarious, the more clarity you can lend to the situation, the better. What are the next steps? How do you intend to remedy the issue? What are you doing to ensure the problem that caused the break won’t happen again? Prospects and customers want to be reassured that if they move forward, they’ll be made whole. This is the time to lay out what you intend to do in order to rebuild trust, and to make sure they don’t feel like they’re going to get burned again.
4. If possible, offer an incentive
Depending on the situation and on how much leeway you have, it can be helpful to offer an incentive. Whether it’s a discount, a special bonus, or some other concession, by giving the prospect or customer something tangible they’ll feel like you’ve taken non-verbal steps to rebuild the relationship. Similarly, an incentive might be what it takes to bring the person back into the fold, rather than losing their business to a competitor. While not everybody will have the flexibility to offer something tangible, there’s no better time to pull out all the stops than when trying to make amends.
5. Go above and beyond
Since trust has been broken, you will need to work to repair it, which means that now is the time to go above and beyond. Once again, this will show that you’re putting effort into repairing the relationship in order to show the importance of having them as a customer. You’ll be surprised at just how quickly somebody can forgive you once you start treating them like royalty. And while you might not enjoy doing this, especially if you believe the other person is equally (or more) at fault, your goal should be to close as many deals as possible, and if that requires the repairing of a particular relationship, then so be it. At the end of the day, it will be worth it.