What To Do When the Train Comes off the Tracks (or How To Make Clients for Life)

Salespeople are responsible for managing the outcomes that they sell their clients. If you sold anything even remotely complex, like a real business improvement, it is inevitable that the execution comes with built-in challenges and problems. Despite all of your foresight, all of your best efforts, and the fact that you were honest and upfront about the challenges, you still have to nudge the train back on to the tracks.

Here are four rules for dealing with problems.

Inform the Client of Your Actions!

Call your client. Immediately (if not sooner)!

Even if you don’t have a resolution to the problem or challenge, call your client. Calling your client lets them know that you are aware that the problem exists, and being aware of the problem indicates that you care. It means that you are paying attention, and that you are managing the outcome that you sold them.

If you have a way to solve the problem, let the client know that you have an idea as to how you can remedy the issue, and let them know the time-frame for implementing your ideas. Calling your client also gives you a chance to understand how the problem might impact their business, and it might allow you to do something to temporarily mitigate the problem.

If you don’t have a way to solve the problem or challenge, make the client aware of what you are doing to find an answer.

Some salespeople mistakenly believe that they should resolve the problem before calling their client. Unfortunately. Not calling sends a different message altogether. If you don’t call your client, you demonstrate that you are either unaware (which demonstrates a lack of caring), or that you are hiding from the problem (which demonstrates that you may not be able to help them achieve their business outcome).

Great business relationships are forged in the fires of overcoming real business challenges together.

Be There

When there are problems of execution and delivery, nothing is more powerful than your presence.

Simply being there means that you care. It means that you are part of their team. It means that you walk the walk, and that your client can count on you to deliver, even when delivering is painful. It means that you deliver what you sell, and that is a business outcome.

Your presence means the client made the right choice, and it provides a visible demonstration to any who may have doubted the decision, or any who may have doubted your ability to achieve the outcomes you sold.

If you can’t get to your client, certainly call them. If you can get to your client, call them and then get there! The bigger the problem or challenge, the more it needs your presence.

Apologize

You anticipated the challenges to execution, and you made an honest sale outlining the problems that you anticipated. You and your client both knew that the problems were likely to occur. Sometimes things go wrong, even though you didn’t actually do anything wrong (some businesses have inherent problems, problems that occur even when you have done everything right).

Apologize. The act of apologizing indicates that you understand that the result isn’t what your client wanted and that you understand the consequences for them and their organization. Apologizing is the act of taking responsibility for the outcomes.

You don’t make lifetime clients by never having problems. You make lifetime clients by taking responsibility for outcomes.

Get Busy Making Things Better and Over-communicate

You called. You apologized. You showed up. Now you have to get busy making the changes and adjustments that will get the train back on the tracks. Do what is necessary to make the changes, and keep your client informed of the progress.

Over-communicate.

Let your client know what changes have been made and how soon they will see a different result. Let them know of any potential obstacles to getting a better result, and enlist their help in overcoming those obstacles. Make sure to inform all of the client’s team members.

When the changes have been implemented, give them an update—even if there isn’t a new result. Give them an update even when there is nothing to update. Your update provides your client with the confidence that you and your team are on the case, and that they can rest assured that you are remedying the problems

Conclusion

Executing complex business solutions comes with challenges. When the problems occur, salespeople have a chance to make a difference for their clients—or not. Follow these four rules and make lifetime clients.

Read my interview with Tom Peters (Part One and Part Two).

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