- Blog post
The client blamed us for their mistakes
Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople made a challenging sale despite price objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. Here, TJ Coyle, Account Executive for Element K, tells what happened when a customer tried to throw him under the bus in front of the new CEO.
We had a very large account with a marquee client. The contract was up for renewal. And we were in trouble.
The company had appointed a new CEO. He didn’t really understand what we did for his organization. All he knew was what his people told him. And it wasn’t pretty. “I have to tell you,” he said when we met. “Your company has a bit of a bad odor with our people.”
A frustrating relationship
That hurt. But I wasn’t surprised. The relationship had been frustrating for years. The client paid well. But they’d never really gotten as much value as they should have.
It wasn’t our fault. Time after time, our recommendations had been brushed aside. “We know what we need,” their people had told us. “Just do what we tell you.” We never stopped trying to make things better. But you can only push so far.
Now those same people were pointing the finger at us.
In fact, they were sitting right in front of me, waiting to see how I’d respond to the CEO’s challenge. The account was worth millions. I knew that whatever I said next would likely determine whether we kept it or lost it.
I threw down the gauntlet
I told the CEO: “You’re not getting the results you want because your company hasn’t listened to us.”
And then I told him what had happened. I didn’t point fingers. I didn’t get angry. I didn’t name names. But I laid it on the line. By the time I finished reviewing the history of the account, the CEO got the picture.
Still, I knew that if I didn’t force a decision then and there, the naysayers and foot-draggers would kill the deal behind closed doors.
So I took a deep breath and said, “We can’t succeed under these conditions. So I won’t renew the contract unless you agree to follow our recommendations.”
All the air went out of the room. Everyone waited to see how the CEO responded.
I could feel the power shifting. Win or lose, I’d taken control.
The CEO looked at me for a long minute. “Okay,” he said. “We’ll try it your way.”
They did, and we had a great relationship from that point forward. Was it a risky move? Sure. But without a change, we’d have lost the account sooner or later.
This was my greatest sale because I didn’t back down. I challenged my client to let us to do our best – or let us move on to a customer who would. I showed I wasn’t willing to compromise on quality – even if it cost me the sale. In doing so, I earned my client’s respect and turned around a difficult relationship.