It was not long ago that I had to have an emergency surgery done to remove a tennis-ball-size tumor and 14 inches of my colon. I spent a total of nine days in the hospital’ intensive care unit. I’m sure you’re wondering why I am sharing this with you. It’s simple. “Money never sleeps.” (Yes, I stole the quote from the movie “Wall Street.”) Just because I was out of the office doesn’t mean that my customers’ businesses just stopped. It is difficult to go from a happy, healthy salesman to sick and out of action.
Contingency Plan in Place?
A good salesperson knows how important a support staff is and when and how to use your people in the best way possible. If your customers have to rely on you, the salesperson, to do everything from placing the order, purchasing and delivery, you could be in for a lot of trouble if you’re forced to miss time from work. If you are a “Mr. I Do Everything” type of salesperson, missing excessive time from work will probably mean the death of your account base. If, however, you have a good inside sales staff who interacts with your customers and services them well, you should have no problem telling your customers, “I have just found out that I have cancer and I am going to have six months of chemotherapy. I will be returning to work in October. In the meantime, my guys will take good care of you. I will, God willing, make a full recovery. I will also call you from time to time just to check in. We appreciate your business and want to keep things rolling while I’m away.” I had to make those phone calls to my customers.
The key is advanced legwork. I had already taken members of my support team out to meet with my customers so they could put a face with the name. I have also asked my counter staff to reach out and contact my customers on a given issue. I have done this for two reasons; one, to lighten the load on my plate, and two, so the customer gets used to someone else on our team that they can go to when they have a problem. You should have multiple points of contact for customers. It’s best if customers feel at home with all the employees versus only believing that one person can provide them the services that they need.
If you’re going to miss an extended period of work, it’s nice to know that your customers care about you. When news of my illness got out, I received dozens of phone calls and emails from customers concerned about my health and well-being. I told some of my customers, “I will be fine and make a full recovery as long as we keep your business. If we lose your business, I might struggle in my recovery, and you don’t want to be responsible for me going downhill, do you?” You have to keep your sense of humor.
I am out of work on short-term disability while I am undergoing my six months of chemotherapy, but that doesn’t stop me from calling a few friends and customers to make sure they are being taken care of and are staying with our company. I make a few phone calls a week, which doesn’t take much of an effort, and if it helps to keep my customers loyal until my return, it’s well worth the time spent. If your relationship with a customer is solely based upon business and having the best price, you will find that while you’re away, someone else has slid in with a more competitive price. It really doesn’t pay to be the lowest cost provider because at any moment someone else can take your account away. If you have met with your customer after hours and spent some quality time together enjoying a similar interest, you have not only gained a friend but have also secured a business relationship that should be able to withstand your absence.
I’m a sales professional who takes pride in his work, but make no mistake, my long-term health is what is truly important. I make sure that I never lose sight of what really matters. It is crucial to let your team handle your customers for you while you are on the mend. If you are worried that your support team isn’t good enough to handle the work load, then you have either hired the wrong people or you’re working for the wrong company. You cannot worry about customer retention when your main drive needs to be on your health. You will need to get well first, and then you can attempt to reacquire any lost customers. It is hard to grow sales if you are dead.