Low Maintenance Clients – The ‘Silent Client’

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I hate the term ‘low maintenance client’.  It needs to be put to pasture in sales.

Sales is a high demand, dynamic industry forcing those in it to constantly make decisions around prioritising work/tasks to achieve their outcome.  Therefore, a low maintenance client appears to be nirvana to the sales person.  Especially a high profit, low maintenance client – high value clients that don’t ask for us anything.  Wow!

What then happens?  Your sales teams day is filled with the now – and there’s usually plenty of it.  Clients with deadlines you need to meet, problems you need to resolve, internal meetings that need to be attended, phone messages, emails, functions, new business targets that need to be achieved.  The list is endless.

They can quickly fall in to the rhythm of fighting fires and responding to what is screaming the loudest.  The ‘work in progress’ in our pipeline gets priority over strategically managing our portfolio.

This is particularly telling when we are busy because deadlines start looming and we usually have ample tasks in front of us which need, sorry demand, our attention.

Usually the first thing to go in this situation is our prospecting activity as, rightly or wrongly (definitely wrongly!), we view we have more than enough work so why pile more on just now, it can wait.

What then goes second are our low maintenance, silent clients.  Those clients that don’t have anything on at the moment.  That aren’t demanding any of our attention at the moment.  That we can always reconnect with tomorrow, or the day after.  At the moment we have a full plate.

This can be an outcome of how you measure or remunerate your sales team – and symptomatic of the very metrics you are using to impel your team to sell.  An acquisition mindset where we are so focused on new clients on our portfolio, risks doing so at the expense of those clients we’ve already made promises to.  A sale through product mindset, where your sales team is measured on their volume of sales (eg number of widgets sold) is also a risk as, invariably, new clients present bigger opportunities.  Even where you measure revenue growth (either net or gross) can present risks as often the trigger our silent clients aren’t happy is when they signal they’re leaving and we need to replace a hole in our revenue line.   We simply risk creating a defacto culture of ignoring our silent clients if we get these metrics wrong or don’t draw attention to those that may not be buying today, but could if we had the right conversations.

Examples of this are rife in the B2C space where existing clients feel unvalued in lieu of the strong acquisition programmes these businesses have and deals they offer new clients.  Loyal clients are neglected in the pursuit of new ones.  Their voice is silenced and they need to yell to be heard.

That client who doesn’t demand much, doesn’t ring all the time or isn’t consumptive of your attention today may very well be sitting in front of you tomorrow.   Because they’ve been a client of yours for a long time, they expect you know their business, the goals and their industry.

The other issue is, now they are sitting in front of you, you can guarantee that what they need is pressing or important, and usually time bound.  Suddenly, you need to deliver a compelling solution for an existing client you have not spent enough time with – simply because you’ve viewed them as ‘low maintenance’.  Your silent client is now yelling for attention and you don’t know enough about them.

How do they feel when they come to understand you don’t know them or their business very well?

Aside from the above situation where a client who was previously ‘low maintenance’ raises their head, there is another more nefarious implication of not addressing your low maintenance clients.  The above is predicated on your client contacting you.  What if they don’t?  What if your low maintenance client is viewed as a high value prospect of your competitors and they aren’t as apathetically managing their relationship with them as you are?  What if they don’t contact you, instead choosing to contact your competitor?  Your low maintenance clients are the breeding ground of competitive opportunity.

If you are managing your client relationships effectively, you should be creating the conversation not waiting for them to ring you.  You should be asking them questions to challenge them, to inquire, to provide confidence to act, to help them make decisions which lead them to their goals.

But when I try to contact them, they tell me they don’t need to see me?

Yes, this often happens in sales.  But this often doesn’t mean your client is low maintenance.  More often it can mean you’re viewed as low value.  Yes, you!  The sales person.  You haven’t demonstrated your value beyond delivering solutions to ‘transactions’.  You haven’t proven the value of your relationship, intellectual property and/or personality for them and their business.  Sorry, painful but the truth.

So what do you do?  Well, the wrong answer is to leave them alone.  The right answer is to challenge their thinking and reset their expectation of you.

How about saying ‘I appreciate you may not have anything on that requires our services at the moment, however when that does happen I want to be able to provide you with the best solution I can.  In order to deliver the best outcome for you, I want to understand you, your business and your strategic goals so when you do call with a pressing matter, I understand why it is pressing, how it fits in to your business and how to best structure a solution to deliver it.  This means, when you have a time bound opportunity or problem we need to solve, we can not just be responsive, but comprehensive in our solution.  Importantly, we may even be able to pre-empt it so it isn’t time sensitive. We may even help you identify opportunities or risks you aren’t yet aware of.

I obviously laboured the above to make a point.  The point is you are a professional sales person – not a order taker.  Your role is to help shape wise decision making in your clients business, not simply react to it.  If your clients don’t understand this – you’re the reason why they’re low maintenance.

So?

If you aren’t in regular contact with all your clients – this is usually the first area you need to address.   Yes, you need to deal to your work in progress and time bound client requirements – but as a professional sales person, all your clients should be contacted regularly.  ALL of them.

But it doesn’t simply stop there.  Simply contacting them isn’t a silver bullet.  Why you contact them is crucial.  Are you completing strategic reviews, discussing their goals or participating in or seeking the outcome of their internal planning?  Simply picking up the phone for a chat isn’t enough.  All your clients require a robust relationship strategy to deliver maximum value.

When looking at your clients, look at things like the below critically:

Look at each of your clients based on value and potential – and map your relationship strategy accordingly.  Also be honest – if you have low value, low potential clients – why?  Is having them detracting from the time and value you can offer to high value and/or high potential clients?  More often than not, the fires you’re fighting will be coming from these low value/low potential clients anyway.  It is not to say they are bad clients for your business, they just may need a different relationship strategy.  Wrap your strategy around your clients needs – now and in the future.

Low maintenance client should never be confused as no maintenance clients or, worse, no value clients.  The ‘they’ll never leave, they love us’ mentally is a sales death knell in your culture.  It may be the case – until someone else shows them what they aren’t getting.  What real sales value looks like.

Please stop using the term low maintenance.  Your sales team shouldn’t be putting out fires, they should be lighting them.  Under your clients.  ALL of your clients.  To make wise decisions that help them and their business.

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