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The Unhappy Buyer: When Win/Loss Calls Go Bad

You reach for the phone, eager with anticipation. You’re making a win/loss call, and this one’s a win. It’s a chance to hear what it is you’re doing right, and perhaps bask a little in the praise of a buyer. But no sooner have you made your hearty greetings then something starts to go wrong. The caller doesn’t seem that pleased with your product – in fact, they’re downright belligerent, even hostile. They’ve purchased what you’re selling – and they’re acting like it’s the worst decision they’ve ever made.

When win/los calls go bad: managing the angry buyer,

Not every win call is going to be rosy. Sometimes what you expect to be a good chat about what went right turns-out to be a warning that everything is or is about to go wrong. These are the ‘Bad News Calls’, the unhappy wins. This article covers how to deal with these tricky conversations, what you should do, what you definitely shouldn’t do, and how to keep the conversation on track so that you avoid losing time just listening to someone vent. Always keep in mind: the goal of any win/loss call is to walk away with worthwhile feedback. Here’s how to not waste your time when faced with buyer remorse.

Listen and Resist the Urge to Help

The first and most important thing to remember during a Bad News Call is that it’s not your job to fix the problem. You’re not calling your buyer as a salesperson, you’re not calling as a customer success representative, and nor are you calling as a CEO or owner looking to talk shop with a client. You’re calling as a win/loss analyst – you’re there to be a dispassionate, attentive listener and thoughtful, insightful interviewer.

Being dispassionate doesn’t mean you should be dismissive, cold, or without empathy, but it does mean you have to resist the urge to help – to reach out to the buyer and try and solve their problems. The moment the call is done you can get on the line to your sales or customer success managers (in fact, you definitely should, because something clearly needs escalation) but during the call your focus should solely be on getting the facts. Don’t make things better – and don’t make things worse. Just conduct the interview as you would any other: with courtesy and respect to the buyer. Worry about what they’re saying after you hang up.

The Unhappy Win Call Needs to be Approached Differently

If a win has gone sour, your investigation tactics need to change. Your questions for wins and losses may be identical, but your tone is likely different. If you can tell the buyer is unhappy, it’s time to switch tones – turn-down the enthusiasm, ramp-up the ‘sympathetic understanding.’ Sometimes all people want is a willing ear; if your buyer has been quietly fuming about their problems, your call might just be the thing they really need. Don’t neglect your responsibility to steer the conversation, however. Being a willing ear is one thing, but wasting your time listening to someone rant for half an hour is good for no one. If the win has soured, you’ve got to dig to find exactly why. You’ve got to walk away with something worth analyzing – some nugget of truth to make it all worthwhile. Then you have something to take back to your salespeople and/or CS team – the people whose job it will be to try and make it right.

Don’t Make Things Worse

Finally, it cannot be stressed enough – both in Bad News Calls and win/loss calls in general – how important it is not to get defensive about the product, your colleagues, or your company. Remember: it’s also your job not to make problems worse. Getting into in argument about what your company did and didn’t do won’t just spoil the data, it’ll imperil an already at-risk relationship, not to mention be simply unprofessional.

If a buyer says something disparaging about a fellow employee, or your boss, or even a close friend, don’t rise to the bait. Steer the conversation back to more constructive criticism. This is more of an autopsy than a court of law, and you’re a coroner, not a defence attorney. Don’t let an angry buyer’s words get to you. If totally necessary, save your ire for when the call is complete and you can fume in your office. Keep your ears open, and your mouth in check.

Unhappy Calls Happen, So Be Ready

Before you start your next round of win/loss calls, review your contingency planning for an unhappy win – do you have a list of questions at the ready for such an eventuality? If not, you should start thinking of one. If you don’t already know, you should also find out whose job it is to fix the problems you might encounter in such a call. Make sure that the lines of communication are open – when a bad news call arrives, you want to be taking action the moment the call ends. Reaching out to the problem-solvers in advance saves you valuable time in the future – and will get you back to making your next call that much sooner.

Bad News Calls are survivable, manageable, and even valuable, so long as you keep an even keel. Stay disciplined, professional, and polite, and even the grouchiest, most miserable of buyers won’t end the call in a worse mood than they started.

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