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5 Ways to Alienate a Customer

These five dumb mistakes drive customers away. Fortunately, they're all easily avoided.
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Customer relationships are, of course, the key to growing revenue and profit. Unfortunately, as with many relationships, you torpedo them by doing dumb and inconsiderate things.

Here are five horribly common sales mistakes (and how to avoid them), loosely based upon a conversation with Susan Scott, author of the best-selling books Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership:

1. Attempt an End Run

When you encounter customer stakeholders who are ambivalent or hostile, it's tempting to try to bypass them and get approval from somebody higher up. Not only will this probably backfire (there's a reason they are stakeholders), but you'll end up creating enemies for life.

Better: Engage stakeholders directly, discover why they're ambivalent or hostile, and then work to reach a meeting of the minds.

2. Trash-Talk the Competition

When you're in a competitive situation, it can be tempting to create an "advantage" by pointing out what your competitors do badly. Unfortunately, customers tend to view such negative comments as self-serving, disrespectful, and unprofessional.

Better: Make the case that something your product does well is essential, then provide independent studies comparing your offering with others in that specific area.

3. Give a Sales Pitch

When you're selling, it's tempting to get into "sales mode" and give a sales pitch or presentation explaining why your offering is wonderful. Customers, however, get glassy-eyed and disconnected whenever they hear a sales pitch.  (Don't you, when you're on the receiving end?)

Better: Unless you're presenting to a large group, have a give-and-take conversation that identifies problems and opportunities.

4. Cave to Last-Minute Demands

You think you're about to close the deal, but the customer comes back with a surprise demand--and tells you that if you don't agree, the deal is off. It's a huge temptation to give in, simply to close the deal. If you do, though, the customer will rightly conclude that you weren't offering the best deal to start with and therefore aren't trustworthy.

Better: Frame the parameters of the deal fairly and honestly from the very start. When a last-minute demand appears, simply say: "That won't work for me." The customer backs off.

5. Become Complacent

When you've been working with a customer for a long time, it's tempting to believe that you can put the relationship into "maintenance mode." It's very easy in the business world, however, to mistake customer apathy for customer loyalty. It's usually right when you're convinced the relationship is "solid" that the customer is about to switch vendors.

Better: Always assume customers are asking themselves: "What has this guy done for me lately?" Answer the question by doing something that helps the customer become more successful.

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Last updated: Aug 3, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.




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