The Complaining Customer

The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business. - Zig Ziglar

In my career, I have found that this statement is absolutely true.   I have spent most of my career selling technology to large enterprises or government organizations.   To drive big outcomes with those customers it is important to have executive level relationships.   If your company does not have those relationships, how can your team develop them?

An unsatisfied customer represents a great opportunity to build new relationships at all levels in the organization, especially with the executives of large organizations.   In most cases, executives are focused on strategic initiatives and solving issues.  If your company is not considered strategic to your customer, sometimes solving issues for an executive can get you on their radar.   I can think of many examples, but I will provide three.

Network Solutions (now a Web.com company) purchased data storage systems from NetApp.  I worked as a sales rep at the time.   Companies that Network Solutions had acquired made several purchases of our equipment over the years.   I had the opportunity to assist them in moving those systems into Network Solutions' data centers.   Our company had great relationships at the technical manager and director level, but our competition had long standing relationships with the executives.   We could not get a meeting with the executives until they started having problems with our equipment.   By helping the customer through their issues, we developed deep relationships at all levels and were able to unseat the competition at that account.   Some of the Network Solutions former employees and I are still friends today.

The state of New Jersey purchased Migration software from one of Xgility's partners, Metalogix.  At the time, I lead the sales organization at Xgility.   The team at Xgility was called in to perform a migration assessment when the customer's migration project was significantly delayed.   As a result of project delays, the customer wanted regular updates at the CIO level on the resolution of their problems.   Xgility and Metalogix were able to provide bug fixes, training, and manpower to solve their issues, and the state of New Jersey became a long standing customer of Xgility and Metalogix.

During my years working at NetApp, Blackboard was an early user of NetApp technology purchased through an OEM relationship with Dell.   Dell also had an OEM relationship with EMC, the company's biggest competitor.   NetApp had superior technology, but it was through some challenges with our equipment that we were able to build deep relationships with the customer.   They ended up purchasing millions of dollars from NetApp and their company was a huge public case study.   Their former VP of Technology is still one of my good friends today.

If your customer complains, ask great questions to better understand their issues and the implication of those issues.   As the company representative, take accountability for your company's role in the problem even if your role in the problem is small.   When given the opportunity to get face to face, go out quickly and take your lumps.   Once you take your lumps, it will help the customer take their focus off of blaming your company and you can offer solutions to resolve their problems.