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The At-Risk Column and What to Do About It

Somewhere between “client” and “lost client” there is a third category called “at risk.” You may not look at your client list this way, but you should.

Problems don’t age well. Left alone long enough, unresolved problems lead to client churn and client retention problems. It’s hard enough to make your number without having to make up lost ground.

Here is what puts your clients in the at-risk column and what you can do about it.

Solve the Unresolved Issues That Make Up Dissatisfaction

The primary factors that will move your client from raving fan to “at risk” are unresolved issues.

When you pursue your dream client, you look for the dissatisfaction that opens an opportunity. Dissatisfaction opens an opportunity for you to create value, and it opens an opportunity for you to compete for your dream client’s business.

At some point, dissatisfaction becomes the trigger event that causes your client to take your competitor’s phone calls, for giving them a face-to-face meeting and, ultimately, for giving them an opportunity. You remember how this works when you are the one pursuing your dream client, right?

You need to remember that your client is your competitor’s dream client.

To prevent this opening, you need to work with your dream client to resolve unresolved issues. Maybe you need to execute and deliver on your promises. Or maybe it is more complicated than that.

Maybe, you need to get your team and their team together to work through the constraints that prevent you from getting the result you need. You also need to bring your resourcefulness and your initiative to bear on the problem, finding something to mitigate whatever it is that is causing the dissatisfaction.

Too many salespeople believe that if their power sponsor is happy, that their client is neatly tucked away in the “safe” column. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who are dissatisfied have a lot of influence, and they have the benefits of time and proximity to your power sponsor; they can work on them until they open an opportunity to bring in someone who is willing to help them with their dissatisfaction.

Check Unchecked Opposition and Obstacles

Not every contact or stakeholder within your dream client is going to be a raving fan. And from time to time, you are going to run across some people who oppose you and your solution and become obstacles. There is a tendency to avoid the opposition and the obstacles and instead hope that they go away. This isn’t a great strategy.

The stakeholders that are obstacles or oppose you and your solution are the entry point for your competitors. Leaving them unchecked means that you leave your client exposed to competitive threats.

Like it or not, this means that your client is in the “at risk” column. They may not be deep into the “at risk” column, but it is dangerous and shortsighted to ignore the obstacles and opposition.

Instead, engage them.

Engage them and find out what causes their dissatisfaction. Empty your cup and go in with an approach that doesn’t cause your obstacle to be defensive, and you may even learn something that may help you to make a difference for them—and for your other clients. Sometimes, by spending enough time with an open mind and an open heart, you can learn to do something to mitigate whatever needs mitigating.

Sometimes obstacles oppose you and your solution because they don’t understand the constraints to getting them what they want. Even though it is sometimes difficult, educating them on the constraints can help your contact understand that you aren’t purposely trying to prevent them from having exactly what they want, exactly how they want it. This is difficult when they still believe the fairly tales some less-than-honest salespeople may tell them in order to work their dissatisfaction. But you have to try and you have to engage.

You can also enlist help. Changing the obstacle from violently opposed to something closer to neutral may require some help. You might need to bring in other contacts that have some influence and credibility with your obstacle. You might need to work on moving them from opposed to neutral. Whatever you try, you need to work to develop a healthier relationship.

To keep your clients out of harms way and out of the “at risk” column, deal with their dissatisfaction and engage the obstacles to create a healthier relationship.

Questions

Look at your client list. Which of your clients are in the at risk column?

Why are they in the at risk column, really?

What actions do you need to take to move your clients out of the at risk column?

Who are the obstacles in your client companies?

What are you doing to engage those obstacles and to retain your clients?


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Comments

comments

  • http://brettcohrs.com Brett

    Both from my experience with my clients and experience with my new clients (the ones who are mine because they were recently at risk elsewhere), I’ve learned that being quick to address issues and maintaining regular contact is crucial. It’s like being married, if I don’t quickly deal with big problems, then we’re doomed. If I don’t date my wife during the easy times, then we might not have a decent platform to handle the biggies when they come up.

    It doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be saved, but it’s much easier to work through major difficulties if a solid, open, communicative base is already there.

    • Anonymous

      No doubt you are correct, Brett! Being quick to address issues is key, as is regular communication. Hiding from problems doesn’t make them go away, does it. 

      As for the marriage analogy, “happy wife, happy life.” Unhappy wife? Well, I might rather take my chances with the unhappy obstacle contacts. 

      A



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