Business is slowly coming to life again. People go back to their offices, factories re-open. Some companies find that the competition did not sit still and their business environment has changed. Hence, managers are busy scanning their new situation. In the midst of that, you want to catch-up with your customers to see how else you can help them. You will not always get the responses you expect. This is exactly what happened to me many years ago placing a regular call to one of my customers, after the long summer break. And what happened next changed the success of their business and my success as a salesperson in an unexpected way.
I called my contact, Jason, the Logistics Manager of my customer for a confirmation of our catch-up meeting. His response was, before even allowing me to go through a suggested agenda: “Sorry, I can’t talk right now, we are in the middle of something and I need to postpone our meeting”. I empathized with his situation and told him I would call back next week. But then, after hanging up, I thought by myself: What is he busy with? I was on good terms with Jason so I called him back and asked him this question. He said that management has requested every function to look at cost savings, and hence he is busy with comparing the costs of alternative suppliers.
Instead of getting in that kind of discussion, I asked: Why is the management asking every department to look at cost savings? What is behind that? Jason explained that after coming back from their summer break, they realized that their main competitor had dumped the prices of their finished products and now the company’s market share in Japan and Australia was in danger. They need to cut costs quickly so that they could match these prices and prevent consumers from switching to their competitor.
I shared the following insight with Jason that got his interest: “I appreciate the challenge you are going through. I had a customer in a similar industry and they faced a similar situation. Just a few cost savings here and there was not the solution nor provided them with the result they were looking for, so they needed to think about a drastic change, enabling them with the cost savings they were after. We helped them with that.
It was quiet at the other end of the phone, so I asked: “Jason, are you still there?” After another 5 seconds, he asked: “What did you do because your rates are not the cheapest? You offer express service and we don’t need that right now. We need to reduce, not increase the cost of the supply chain.”
I said: “Together we changed their business model and saved them 2/3rds of their warehouse cost. These cost savings reduced their overall production cost and allowed them to compete with prices that the market demanded. Maybe this is something that can work for you too?”. The next morning I was in Jason’s office and we worked out how a new business model would ship raw product materials direct from the supplier to their factory, instead of with the middlemen. The result was a warehouse cost savings of $100k per year. Jason’s company implemented with my help the suggested business model and not only kept their market shares but were able to expand to new markets. They became my biggest customer.
I have shared this story hundreds of times with other potential customers and with many sales colleagues. The moral of the story is: When people seem to be busy and have no time to talk to you, ask them what they are busy with and why. This will in many cases pay off. The second message: Storytelling is a powerful way to share ideas with your customers and becomes a more and more important skill in the new way of selling. By sharing a short success story with Jason, rather than explaining the process of the proposed business model, his motivation to take action and interest was greater. He became my change-champion and together we took the proposal to the boardroom.
So when your customers say they are to busy to talk to you, that is not the end of the story!
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