• Jay Galvin

COVID-19: How to turn a client's cancellation on it's head

It’s just another day. You’ve had your morning coffee. You’re ready to make your calls. You feel great. You’re about to pick up your phone. And then it happens. The dreaded call. Your client wants to cancel.

Change happens. Even the greatest salesperson or customer agent can find themselves in this situation at some point in their career. Perhaps the organization is looking to make some budget cuts, and you’re the cut. Perhaps a new CEO doesn’t feel this fits his vision. Perhaps a virus that no one could have anticipated causes lay-offs. The question is, how do you handle it? And what can you do to salvage the situation?

Let’s start by going back to the beginning. When you were originally working with your client, how did you interact? What was your relationship? Did you have a working relationship, or was it simply a “here’s the dotted line, please sign here?” We are all guilty of this at one point or another. Sometimes we just don’t connect with the person and know that they are willing to move forward either way. It can sometimes feel that is the “easy sell,” but ultimately it could end up hurting you in the end.

Relationships matter. We hear it all the time through speakers, blogs, clients, even our colleagues. But at the end of the day, when you get that call that they can no longer partner with your company, will the client seem upset? Will they hope to work with you in the future, or are you just another call they have to make?

Too many sales reps get caught up selling every feature that they offer or explaining why their company is better than the competition. But how many sales reps take the time to ask their client something personal? How many take the time to really get to know them on a personal level as well?

Break the rules, make business personal. I once worked with a colleague in sales who took the time to visit her local accounts regularly. But what she did was different. She would ask them, “how is the new puppy doing?” Or, “How was your son’s graduation? I bet you’re so proud!” After she met with them, she’d go back to the office and write down all that they had spoken about, so she could bring it up the next time. When it comes to our clients it’s so important to not only have a strong business relationship, but a personal one as well.

In the recent COVID-19 Global crisis, I had a client call to let me know they needed to cancel their event. She sounded upset and clearly did not want to give me this news. When I asked what we could do to rectify the situation, she was quick to say she loved working with me and would do all she could to convince her board to use us again in the future. Once all of this passed of course. Your relationship with your client can mean that cancellation call is just that, a cancellation. Or it could mean it’s a future business opportunity. Just because they are saying no now, doesn’t mean it won’t be a yes later.

Ok, so you have a great relationship with your client. They love you. You know all their kids’ names, their dogs, birds, cat, fish, etc. but their hands are tied. There is nothing they can do. What now? This is where you need to think outside the box. Have you asked all of the right questions? Did the conversation end after they said they are cancelling, or did you find out more?

Stop, listen and ask. The best salespeople are the ones who stop and listen. As salespeople, we can talk. It’s why we got into sales in the first place. It’s probably why they hired you. But sometimes the best thing you can do is take a breath and listen. “Why are you looking to cancel at this time?” “We have had a great working relationship, is there an opportunity to partner together in some other capacity? Is there another event?”

I worked with a group that needed to cancel their April meeting. When they called to let me know they were planning on cancelling, the client wasn’t planning on continuing the conversation. I told him I understood where they were coming from (budget cuts was the reason) but then I asked him about future opportunities. Perhaps we could find an agreeable solution for both parties.

From cancel to more bookings. Ultimately, through speaking with him and qualifying the situation further, I found out that they would be willing to host the same event, however they just needed it to be smaller in order for it to make sense financially THIS YEAR. “But what about next year?” He had paused, thought about it a moment and finally said, “well, next year we are planning on hosting this same event. We wouldn’t be doing the same budget cuts then.” “And what about the year after that?” Suddenly this cancellation went from cancelling one meeting, to downsizing slightly and booking 3 more years with us.

It’s so important to take the time to really find out WHY this is happening. Is this a permanent decision or is this something that is just being implemented right now? If we don’t take the time to fully understand WHY the company is making the decisions they are, we will never be able to come up with solutions on HOW we can work together for a mutually beneficial partnership.

No one ever wants to get that call, but the best sales rep will be prepared when it comes. So next time you’re visiting with your client, take the time. Ask the questions. Get to know them. They may be the reason the board is considering working with you again in the future. They may be the reason their company wants to find a solution together. Cancellations will happen. But how bad it turns out can be entirely up to YOU.

Jay Galvin is the Managing Partner of The Galvin Group, a training and consulting firm.

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