• Sell.Market.Win

Sales People Make This Mistake Far Too Often

We all know how great it feels to win over a customer and close a deal. But what happens when you realize the delivery of the product or service did not go as smoothly as you hoped? Maybe its supply chain issues, the production schedule, or some other unforeseen factor. If you thought closing the deal was your only time to shine as the sales rep, you were wrong.

The reality is, problems and complications are going to arise in any business… but how you handle them determines your customer’s satisfaction and continued loyalty for years to come.

Back in the early 1990’s I was selling telephone systems for a large telecom corporation. I was just out of college- bright, excited and ready to take over the world. After my three week training course (yes… only 15 days) I was on the desk making outcalls to area businesses. On my fifth day I landed my first order. That first order was a confidence boost, and I started to feel (relatively) proficient at the daily monotony of pushing these (very 90’s) phone systems. (case in point: the on-hold music was one option – beeps).

One day a customer called complaining about their system. For the first time, someone was upset and suddenly the ball was in my court. My green, early 20-somethings self noted their contact information and the details of the problem, and sought out my sales manager for advice. He told me, “don’t worry about it, it isn’t a big deal, and they are a tiny account”. His answer worried me a bit, but my green self went along and I did what I was told. The next morning, the customer called again asking if we could help. My sales manager had the same advice, “don’t call him back, it isn’t a real issue, and they’re a tiny account”.

The customer proceeded to call me back each morning for about 10 days. I nervously continued to stall and dodge him. The few times he did manage to catch me on the phone, I panicked and told him, “we were looking into it”. My gut told me I wasn’t doing the right thing, but my inexperienced self wasn’t sure how to handle the situation, especially when my gut and my boss were not in agreement.

Ultimately, the customer finally went away like my sales manager said he would. I was relieved to not have to worry about the pressing calls each morning, and work went back to normal… or so I thought.

Eight weeks later the CEO of our company flew in from Chicago. As a new employee, I had never met him, but I immediately noticed his fancy suit, and the fact that he arrived in a limo from a local private airport that I did not know existed. He met with the sales manager behind closed doors, and he was NOT happy. We could feel the tension and hear the anger in his voice as it seeped through the conference room door.

To my shock, it turned out that the complaining customer we ignored was indeed a small division… our largest national account. This large, national account had decided to pull ALL of their business from us. The repercussions of our poor customer service skills were immediately becoming apparent to me. While I am sure changes were made as a result of this situation, it was clear to me that my gut feelings- my own values were not aligned with my management, and I decided to leave my job. I later heard the company went bankrupt about 10 months later.

I learned a lot from my horrible first sales job. I learned that no customer is too “tiny” to warrant a response. I learned to never again work for management that does not understand the value of all customers. I learned to handle complaints with compassion, empathy, and an expedited desire to provide solutions. To look for ways move forward together. And most importantly, I learned that a customer complaint is the best opportunity for an organization to win and retain a customer for years.

Now, with more than 30 years of experience under my belt, I embrace customer complaints. A customer complaint is an opportunity build the relationship, to prove the value of your customer service, and to strengthen the foundation for continued loyalty for years to come. For help improving your customer relationships, contact us today at

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