How to avoid losing customers to competitors

Many times, you hear a salesperson say, “We service the heck out of our customers. They’ll never leave us.” But then a competitor walks away with an account. No one saw it coming or what went wrong.

You work hard getting new accounts, take servicing them seriously, and yet they still leave. Why?

When competitors come calling, they’re ripe for the picking. It’s the accumulation of seemingly minor issues that do the damage and make customers vulnerable. To help avoid it happening, here’s a checklist for keeping customers:

1. Be irritation-aware. By themselves little things accumulate in a customer’s mind, tolerated and quietly dormant until something triggers a reaction. “I’ll call you back about that,” but you forgot. “I’ll get on it right now,” but you didn’t. Minor irritations to be sure, but over time they become a big issue. That’s when the competitor arrives.

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2. Meet deadlines. “Sorry, Susan, would it be OK if I got that to you tomorrow,” although he knew the due date well in advance. If it happens once, that’s understandable. Twice and it’s seen as a pattern.

3. Exhibit self-confidence. Few things raise red flags faster than those who come across as wishy-washy and unsure of themselves.

4. Be a resource. Make it a practice to keep your antennae tuned for ideas that may be of interest to customers. Then, pass them along.

5. Become a better presenter. A regional rep for a steel company signed up for a public speaking class. “I’m not good enough on my feet,” he told the instructor. Months later, he received a big promotion and credited what he learned in the class as making the difference.

6. Get better organized. Smart salespeople know the value of being well-organized. Intuitively, perhaps, they recognize that getting customers what they need fast helps being seen as reliable.

7. Don’t talk about yourself. Understandably, salespeople want to impress prospects and customers. Sometimes they try too hard; they don’t do themselves any favors by telling stories about themselves.

8. Ask questions. How many times do we need to be reminded that “telling isn’t selling”? Asking questions works better since it gives customers and prospects a chance to … talk about themselves and what they do.

9. Be attentive. Salespeople know the danger of ignoring customers and do everything possible to avoid it.

10. Be on time. Keeping customers waiting is dangerous at any time. Calling or texting you’ll be late doesn’t cut it. Being late may be ignored, but it’s not forgotten.

11. Respond rapidly. It seems a bit tough, but a good rule of thumb is 15 minutes to one hour for responding to both phone calls and email. This includes simply letting someone know you received their message and when you will get back to them.

12. Anticipate problems. While optimism is essential if you’re in sales, it’s also useful to be a bit pessimistic. It creates doubt, which will help you spot potential problems before disaster strikes.

13. Listen intently. We all find ourselves thinking, “What did I just read? I can’t remember a word!” Our eyes were moving across the page, but we were thinking about something else. It’s the same with listening. The customer is talking and we’re thinking about what we will say next. All it takes to avoid this is to take a few notes.

14. Write simply. The goal is to make everything you write as easy to read as possible. To do this, some suggest shooting for a third-grade reading level. However, a fifth- to seventh-grade level works well for capturing and holding attention.

15. Express appreciation. Letting customers know you appreciate their business goes without saying. However, tickets to sporting events, gifts, meals at popular restaurants, or contributions to a customer’s favorite charity are thoughtful but weak substitutes for consistent top ­performance.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. Contact him at