Your professional word is not lip service about being a trusted colleague.
As context, I cleaned up former reps’ sales messes. My customer retention numbers were off the chart; I stabilized our entire teams’ account base. Also, I wasn’t intimidated working with or selling to skeptical technical decision makers.
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When this client was assigned to me, he had been neglected by rep inattention. However, he also had an engineering and architecture business. That made him a logical target for my company’s new software platform.
I became one of the first reps to close on this new product offering. My organization made a big deal about it, complete with email blasts urging other reps to sell, sell, sell! Yes, there was a nice commission involved. Gotta admit, I enjoyed my 15 minutes of sales fame.
As I closed the sale, I gave my client my professional word: I would not abandon him, post-sale.
Have you been in a similar situation? What would you have done, if you were in my shoes?
Post-sale, things went well, until things didn’t go so well.
The pre-sale contract included a phased upsell and post-sale migration into a newer version of the software platform. Client investment in the original platform would be applied towards migration costs for the new platform.
Let’s face it, retaining customers is hardly a solo act. To execute the complex contract specifications, I collaborated far beyond the sales organization. As a result, I formed my own post-sale team of operations, engineering and accounting professionals.
That’s when we realized the client was being charged, simultaneously, for both the old and new platforms. In addition, my numbers showed two sales, not one. Double my numbers, double my commissions.
When I discussed with my sales manager, she recommended: “Don’t say anything, because then you’ll have to refund your commission.”
If you found yourself in the same situation, what would you do?
How frequently is your own professional word tested?
When I told my sales manager that we needed to do things differently, she looked at me, blinked, shrugged and replied, “Your choice.”
I think you all know me pretty well, by now. So, you understand that her response didn’t sit well with me. Consequently, I choose collaboration, not escalation. There’s a difference: do you know what it is?
I set up a meeting with regional sales management. We reviewed the pre- and post-sale files regarding specifications and invoicing. Do you dig deep and maintain your own audit trail for clients?
When you collaborate ethically, your professional word is a bond of personal integrity.
During our meeting, the regional VP of Sales revisited the commission position. “Well, you know you have to refund your original commission.” Then, he laughed. After all, we were not meeting to argue about commission dollars.
To his credit, the sales VP also was a man of his professional word; we both had the client’s back on this one. However, it took 18-months to resolve the mess.
Not only were headquarters egos involved, also accounting systems subprograms were non-compatible, causing double billing. We could have stopped digging there and still have been heroes to the client. Would you have stopped at this point?
Upon further investigation, we discovered that product management dropped the original product platform upon which the upsell was based! However, they elected not to tell the sales force. That scenario meant they never had any intention of honoring my client’s original contract.
Things had just gotten a whole lot messier. However, the VP of Sales and I refused to abandon the client. Would you have given up or forged ahead?
Your professional word is more than sales commission.
While it was no loss to the company when I had to refund my original commission dollars, now they were in the hot seat. Eventually,the company refunded the cost of the first sale. Then, they designed a new (more expensive) platform, delivering it to the client at the originally-contracted, upsell price.
That is why I was meeting with my client, to share this story with him.
At the end of the meeting, he looked me in the eyes. “B,” he said, “your professional word is your bond.” Then we shook hands and smiled.
This client still reads this blog. So does his team. I imagine they will recognize this story and smile, once again.
When your professional word is your bond, you are committed to collaborating on behalf of clients.
Collaboration is a powerful tool that not only acquires customers, but retains them. When you respect the integrity of clients, you and your teams create remarkable and enduring client outcomes.
Is your professional word your professional bond? Have you ever been challenged, in the past or even in the present? How did you react? What did you choose to do?
Babette Ten Haken is a corporate catalyst and innovative speaker. She serves organizations as a strategist, coach and storyteller. Babette’s One Millimeter Mindset™ Workshops and Speaking programs refocuses individuals, teams and businesses on self-definition, purpose and the power of collaboration. She leverages these principles to increase customer acquisition and retention.
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