In response to an old marketing campaign, I had a potential client dust off my email and reach out regarding a possible appreciation event. As fate would have it, the date was booked full for us and we would be unable to assist her in creating a memorable experience. When I finished explaining that we would be forced to pass on the opportunity, I could hear the familiar tone suggesting this person was about to say, “Thanks anyway”, and hang up to continue their search on their own. Before they could get those words out, I offered to assist them in connecting with one of my competitors. For the next ten minutes, I provided the names and contact information for various companies I thought would best suit her event. As we were speaking, I was creating an email to her with the various information being shared, and an offer to reach out to me for any free advice, or consultation, I could provide. When I gave her the last name, she stopped me and admitted very honestly that she was given that name by one of her co-workers as well, but when she called they were booked. She then went on to say that when she asked this company for any suggestions, the person replied, “Well I’m not going to send you to my competition. That would be crazy!” She told me that she figured I would give her the same response, thus the rush to get off the phone and continue her search. She thanked me for my time, and following my email, wrote me a very polite thank you with the final sentence that anyone in my position can hope for – “I hope to do business with you in the future.”
Early in my career, it was drilled into my head by my mentor to worry little about your competition, and worry much about yourself. And always remember that your customers come first, even if that means you have to send them to your competition so they can get better service than what you can provide at the moment. He ran a large medical software company, and I remember one instance during a meeting when we were interrupted by a customer who needed a particular service he could not provide in their time frame. He directed them to his top competitor, and even contacted his competitor to let them know the referral was on its way. When I asked him if he was worried about losing that customer, and why on Earth he would not only send them to his competitor, but let the competitor know, he replied, “Listen, that poor customer is trying to get a need filled. It’s not their problem I’m booked up, and it’s selfish to not want to see them succeed without my help. And do you not think they can’t find my competition on their own? They found me!”
Serve the Customer Now and in the Future
By assisting the potential customer the way I did, I left a lasting impression of the type of service you can expect from us for your event. I spent the time to give detailed information, and helpful suggestions, throughout the planning process. My intention was to make sure her needs were met, but to also gain a potential future customer for next year. Needless to say, once I hung up the phone I used my CRM to record every bit of information, and set a reminder to contact this person early next year to try and win the business. It’s a good bet she will remember the helpful VP of the large event company, and be willing to take my call, over the not so helpful individual who met zero of her needs. Do I risk my competition doing so well that I never get the business back? Absolutely, but if your company is built on character and strong values you are okay with that, and you know there is plenty of business to go around. The next peace of business may very well come from that customer, who I left an impression of great service, through a referral.
Fix the Glitch
No one likes to pass on business. It leaves a dark feeling, and even though I felt good in providing assistance that will benefit the customer, it still will sit with me. I would submit that is a good feeling, and a driving force towards correcting the issue that forced me to pass on the business. How do I create more capacity? What is the cost? What is the ROI? What investments do I need to make today, right now, to be able to take that same call next year and happily announce we will be happy to service your event? I believe you only get one chance to refer a customer to your competition. I believe the second time, that customer will come back because you left them with a good feeling, and you helped solve their problem. If in year two I’ve made zero adjustments to take that call, I no longer serve a useful purpose for that person in terms of meeting any needs. Once you’ve come to grips with the missed opportunity, get with your team and start correcting the issues. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the referral business solely.
Get Inside Your Competitors Mind, Just a Bit
When he called his competition to inform them that he was sending business their way, he put them on speaker phone. For the next five minutes, his competition peppered him with questions – “What’s wrong with this lead?”, “What have you got cooking over there that you can’t take this lead?”, “What are you up to?”, “Are you dying?” When he hung up the phone, he chuckled a little and said that poor guy will be up all night wondering what edge I’ve got that I can happily pass on business. You should have a healthy respect for your competition, but not an obsession. Study them, learn from them, but don’t let them dictate your actions. And show them every now and then that you are so confident, you are willing to help them get business.
Your competition is out there. Embrace them. Do not fear them. Focus on your qualities and values, and on serving your customers in the best possible manner. In the end, customers want a need filled, and they don’t care if they were a means to beating your competition. Doing whatever you have to do for that customer, in the end, will create the client base every company craves.