Anticipate the Unexpected: It’s Your Job!

Article by , April 26, 2021

“We didn’t see it coming.” That’s what an exasperated client of mine said to me recently when they lost not one, but two big accounts due to unforeseen internal changes within each customer’s organization.

In both cases, they thought their position as the top supplier was safe: they sold directly to the owner of one company and to the president of the other firm. But when the owner retired and the president quit, suddenly my client found themselves on the outside with no allies in either firm. It was a very expensive lesson to learn. Especially these days.

Whether you are a leader within your organization or a leader in sales, it’s your job to anticipate the unexpected with all of your customers. Even in the best circumstances, you will be among the last to know about internal changes within your customer’s business. However, your success hinges on relationships with people, so you can’t afford to limit your contact to a minimum number of decision makers.

Anticipating takes planning. Here’s what you can do to better position yourself and your sales group for the unexpected…and for greater success.

Check your assumptions.

It’s a mistake to let your assumptions about your relationships within each customer group to go unchecked. The first place to start is with the number of people inside each group that you have regular contact with. The wrong assumption is that this number is static (i.e., OK as-is). Instead, do your research to find new people to meet on an ongoing basis. As I remind leaders often: I’ve never seen an account lost because we have too many contacts, but I have seen millions of dollars lost because we had too few.

Always have a backup.

You likely have backup systems for your critical data infrastructure. Why in the world would you not do the same for your business relationships? For every one of your clients, reach out to them and ask, “Who besides you should we call if you are not available?” Consider what happened among my own clients during the recent pandemic lockdown—a very unexpected event. Those who maintained the highest customer retention rates were the ones who had conducted a systematic client-relationship backup check beforehand.

Schedule business reviews regularly.

Do these on a quarterly basis with each of your clients—either virtually or in person. Include your management and technical teams in this process so that they are each encouraged to bring more people to the table. Typically, a review should be like a health check. Review current expectations on each account and examine future plans. Just as important: listen to your client. Doing that well is how you will learn more about what is occurring within the customer’s organization.

Walk the floor.

While fully respecting each client’s social-distancing protocols, if you are allowed onsite with a customer, do take advantage of this opportunity. Doing so means you will meet more people with whom you might otherwise never get acquainted. Remember: the more you meet, the more you know.

Schedule lunch-and-learn sessions.

To ensure that everyone within your company who deals directly with your customers (e.g., drivers, trainers and others) develops a relationship with their contact, show them how this is done. Your lunch-and-learn sessions should focus on the solutions and unique needs of your business relationship with each client. For example, if you work in insurance, teach your team how to offer the right package of insurance products. If you work in software, teach them how to do more with the products they have purchased to date. Of course, these can be done just as effectively in a virtual environment as face-to-face.

Encourage executive-to-executive relationships.

This last point is an important one: power attracts power. Find opportunities for your most senior people within your organization to meet and connect with their peers within your customer’s business. This can go a long way to broadening those contacts and give you and your team valuable insight so that you can better anticipate changes (and adapt to them) well ahead of when you otherwise would.

The bottom line about anticipation in sales is that it’s part of your job—even if you’re not the head of sales. Think of yourself as a conductor managing multiple musicians. The more players you bring into the ensemble, the more you need to coordinate, but the bigger and more impactful the music becomes.