Is complacency leaving your accounts open to competitors?
  • sales
  • Blog post

Is complacency leaving your accounts open to competitors?

You’re visiting a customer you haven’t spoken to lately. On the desk, you see a trade magazine opened to an ad for one of your competitors. A coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

The magazine could be a sign that something else is open: A door into this account that a competitor could walk through and steal your customer. You’ve been focused on new business rather than existing accounts and this incident gets you thinking: “How many of my existing accounts are in danger? How many other doors have I left open?”

Let’s look at some research that shows salespeople leave such doors open more often than they might think.

Inflexibility, apathy

Two marketing professors from the universities of Miami, Ohio and Missouri-Kansas City interviewed 50-some buyers who had dropped existing vendors for new suppliers.

From the responses, the professors concluded that the number one reason companies switched was that their vendor became complacent.

Complacency takes many forms. The researchers cited several examples:

  • inflexibility in a salesperson’s interactions with the customer
  • inadequate time spent with the customer, and
  • perceived apathy about the customer’s problems

In the research, vendors who took customers for granted, or assumed that customers are safe as long as they’re not complaining, left one or more doors wide open for competitors.

Let’s look at the most common reasons that doors crack open and what you can do to prevent rivals from stealing your accounts:

Door #1: Changes in the business

Janelle, a hard-working salesperson, calls her customer with good news: “We’ve added enhancements to the product at no cost to you.” But the customer says, “Didn’t you know? In a few months, we’ll be phasing out your product and replacing it with a new one.”

Janelle had no idea. She grew complacent and hasn’t spoken to the client in more than 12 months.

On a regular basis, ask questions like these to stay on top of changes in your customers’ businesses:

  • How is your business different from a year ago?
  • How will it be different a year from now?
  • Are you expanding? Consolidating?
  • Do you have new competition?

Door #2: Contacts

Terry has been selling to Alex for years. One day he calls Alex’s number – and hears this: “Alex has left the company. This is Ms. Jones, his replacement. How can I help you?”

“Oh! I’m checking on a proposal I sent Alex…”

“We’re actually going to switch to another vendor that I’ve worked with for years. I’m sorry, but Alex didn’t leave me your contact information,” Ms. Jones says.

Your relationship with your contact may be solid. But your critical relationship should be with the company, not any one person.

Ask these questions:

  • What would happen if my main contact left? Who would approve my orders? What’s my relationship with that person?
  • Who in the organization uses my product or service? Are they loyal to our product and would they advocate for it?

Door #3: After-sale service

Al arrives for a meeting with a customer. As he walks in, the customer pulls out a report. “Al, you’ve delivered late four times in the last six months. That’s cost us money.”

Al is stunned. “Four times?  I had no idea.” If Al hadn’t been complacent, he might have checked with the warehouse to see how deliveries to this customer were going – and been able to do something before the situation blew up. His customer assumed Al knew about the late deliveries and didn’t care.

Besides delivery, other after-sale problems can open doors. Here are questions to ask:

  • Has our support team been responsive?
  • How many complaints has this customer logged and how promptly have we resolved them?

Door #4: Evolution in price

Juanita’s customer has always paid the bill without comment. Suddenly one day he says he’s switching to a vendor who charges 15% less.

“But you never complained about the price before. What if we can match it?” Juanita asks. “That means you’ve been overcharging me all along,” the customer says.

Don’t assume buyers aren’t paying attention to price just because they haven’t brought it up. Initiate a conversation to let them know why you charge what you do. Your focus should be on value.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I know my competitor’s current pricing and pricing strategy?
  • If my customer’s boss asked why we charge more than competitors, could my customer explain it?

There may be other open doors that are unique to your business. Check them regularly. It’s easy to forget about an open door – until it’s too late.

This blog entry is adapted from the Rapid Learning module “The Four Open Doors: How Accounts Become Vulnerable, and How to Keep Them Safe.” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.

The blog post and Rapid Learning video module are based on the following research study: Friend, S. & Johnson, J. (2017) Familiarity breeds contempt: perceived service and sales complacency in business-to-business relationships. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 37:1, 42-60.


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