Transitioning Salespeople: How to Avoid Disrupting Client Relationships
Salespeople leave. It happens. But for a midmarket company, the transition isn't always easy. An important component to sales is building relationships, so when one of those relationships ends, clients may feel like they've been abandoned or left in the lurch. Building trust and confidence with someone new can take time, and retaining customers and sales numbers during a transition is vital for midmarket firms that want to stay competitive.
So, what's the key to successfully transitioning clients and customers to a new salesperson? Preparing for the change before it happens.
Make Sure Your Customers Know a Team, Not Just a Person
It's important that your customers aren't overly reliant on just one salesperson in the first place. Let them get to know a team rather than an individual. This way, when a salesperson leaves, you're just changing one member of the team rather than the client's entire customer service experience, Harvard Business Review recommends. By letting your customers interact with a team, they'll be less likely to view that one salesperson as being completely indispensable. One way to achieve this is by having a junior sales representative accompany your senior sales representative on calls. You can also put different people in charge of different components of your client's customer service experience.
Give the Customer Warning, If You Can
Sometimes a salesperson leaves unexpectedly, giving you no time to prepare. But if you know beforehand that the person is leaving, then give your customers advance notice, too. Change is difficult for many people. Affording clients time to mentally adjust rather than just thrusting change onto them can make a huge difference in retaining them.
Communicate the Excellence of All Your Employees
One big concern that customers have when a trusted salesperson leaves is that the replacements won't be as good and won't have the same knowledge, according to HBR. You can tackle this concern by consistently highlighting the accomplishments and skills of each salesperson. For example, you can periodically communicate the effectiveness of your sales training and how selective your business is when it brings on new hires. If you sell a complicated product, include details in your promotional materials about how your salespeople are educated regularly by key professionals in the field. You might even encourage your customers to attend training sessions and offer input. External validation is also important. Strive to have your salespeople speak at conferences and win local, regional and national awards.
Provide Extra Training and Oversight
Getting the new guy up to speed can take time, but don't skimp on this process. Your customers' key concerns include whether the level of service they've grown used to will drop when a new person takes the reins. Troy Harrison, a sales speaker and author, explains in Corp! Magazine that the new salesperson should be an expert in your company's products and also be thoroughly versed on the client's unique needs and quirks. Make sure the new person understands your company's culture and can demonstrate it in meetings.
Introduce the New Salesperson
Don't send a new salesperson in alone when he or she first meets your clients, Harrison recommends. Doing so can make your customers really uncomfortable about the entire change. Instead, if possible, let your old salesperson introduce the new hire. If you have already taken the team approach discussed earlier, then let the team introduce the new person. If your client is especially important, consider visiting personally and explaining the change.
Have More Personal Involvement During the Transition
Prepare to be personally involved during a transition, or to involve a senior manager. Someone with seniority should call the customers and check in on them, seeing how they are adjusting to the transition. Your customers will appreciate this specialized touch.
Let Your Business Speak for Itself
Transitioning salespeople can be difficult if you don't prepare ahead of time. But if your business offers a valuable service that no one else provides, that by itself can help override concerns about individual salespeople. After you bring on a new client, remember that your marketing department's job is just as vital as your sales department's in retaining them.
When was the last time you transitioned between salespeople at your company? Did you lose any clients in the process? What did you learn about which tactics work and which don't? Tell us in the comments below.
Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an NCMM contributor and publicist, journalist and attorney whose work has been featured by Businessweek, Newsmax and other national publications. She regularly reports on breaking news and business for Heavy, and she writes a monthly column for the American Bar Association. Stephanie is often sought by companies to consult on publicity, marketing and business development. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.