I once took it for granted that businesspeople would treat each other with respect and integrity. From years in sales and my work as CEO of EVENTup, I’ve learned that outstanding relationships are the exception, not the norm. I give people the benefit of the doubt – I don’t think many are inherently “bad” – but some individuals lack self-awareness.
That’s why I’d like to discuss actions that will screw up your client relationships. If you can’t maintain relationships, you will create a vicious cycle of unhappy clients, bad word-of-mouth, and fleeting revenues. No level of sales skill can pull you out of that death spiral.
Why focus on mistakes? What about the right things to do?
Under perfect circumstances, most people treat clients decently. However, when we’re under pressure to sell more, or retain paying clients, we’re more likely to deviate from our standards. If you hear yourself saying, “This time, I’m sure it’ll be fine if I [fill in subpar action],” that’s your brain trying to excuse you for dropping the ball. It’s the same voice that says, “I’m on a diet, but I was good last week, so I’m eating this brownie.” Hot leads, like brownies, can tempt you away from your own rules.
With that context, let’s cover five actions that will chill or kill your relationships:
1. Taking a client when you know you shouldn’t
Have you ever gone on a date with someone when you knew you shouldn’t? Has that ever gone well?
Sales relationships are no different. If you know you’re going to hate dealing with a client – or fail to meet your own quality standards – the money is not worth the inevitable breakdown and bad word of mouth.
When someone tries to give you revenue, it’s harder to say “no” than “yes.” The truth is that prospects will respect you for saying, “Hey, I don’t think we’re a good match for your needs.” If they still insist on working with you, be clear that you probably can’t meet their expectations.
Nothing sours a client relationship like the gap between expectations and reality. If you oversell your product or service, you won’t satisfy the client, even if you perform well above the industry average.
If you sell software, for instance, don’t promise that an integration will take one week and work perfectly. That never happens. Give commitments that you know to be humanly and technically possible.
Overpromising stems from fear. Companies – especially software vendors – are deathly afraid of appearing complicated, slow or expensive. Many don’t share technical information publicly, or they hide it in some obscure corner of their website. They’re afraid of sharing that information because they think clients expect instant gratification at all times. They don’t. People want honesty more than “on-demand.”
3. Leaving out key details
Consider this scenario: you sell cloud-based software that can be used anywhere in the world, but your development team is located in Indonesia. Do you tell your New York-based prospect about this? Does it matter?
In my opinion, this situation calls for transparency. While you might not see the downsides of a remote dev team, your New York prospect will have questions. If we have a technical meltdown when it’s 2 am in Indonesia, is there an emergency person on duty?
Generally, prospects assume that you will be available during the same business hours, give or take two hours. If you want to partner with someone that is on the opposite time schedule, you need to mention that before going into business.
Leaving details out by omission is one thing. You’ll learn your mistake the hard way. If you leave out details intentionally, you will screw up relationships.
4. Faking niceness
You probably train account managers and customer service people to be nice, empathetic and apologetic. New recruits might fake it ‘till they make it. Acting out emotions can, in fact, make them real.
If you go too far though, fake niceness will infuriate your customers. If you add six exclamation marks to every email, that doesn’t make your service better. If you’re telling a person how to install a cable box and shout, “Good job! Congrats!” after each step, you aren’t providing a better experience – you’re infantilizing clients. Insincerity tells people that you can’t be trusted in more serious, difficult scenarios.
5. Making excuses
When you screw up or slack in your level of service, do not try to justify it. The client wants something fixed, not the reason why it isn’t fixed. Excuses are the ultimate way to destroy relationships.
When you drop the ball, explain three things: what you did wrong, how you will correct the problem, and how you will prevent the same mistake in the future. That’s taking responsibility, and people who do it are rare. No one likes to be wrong; no one likes to be blamed for anything. People make excuses without realizing they are excuses.
The bottom line is that relationships hinge on integrity. You can sell anything you want, but you can’t retain clients or earn repeat business without being your word. Don’t exaggerate to earn or keep business. Sell what you really have, and be proud of it.
Read the article here on Forbes.