Meeting the Challenge — Building and Maintaining Relations With Customers Who Are Burned Out

by Michelle Jobst, CPMR, Jobst Incorporated

I don’t know about you, but I’m noticing my customers are burned out and maybe even showing some signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Perhaps you’ve noticed it also. Salespeople serve on the front lines to the customer and are better able than anyone else to identify issues firsthand. The deep relationships we have been carefully developing over time allow us to measure the customer’s pulse during each visit. That is a gift — and it’s one we should share with our customers.

So, how do we support and build trust with our customers at a time when they do not have time and emotional resources to spare?

How about this? Follow the example of the Marvel super-heroes and put the independent manufacturers’ rep’s superpowers to work. In no particular order, make use of:

  • Preparation and Respect

In the face of recovering from the after-effects of the pandemic, endless Zoom meetings, dealing with supply chain matters, and keeping their employees satisfied — among other concerns — there is no better time than the present to be respectful of your customers’ needs, wants and desires. Anticipate and meet their needs ahead of time and make sure you show them value during the course of every sales call.

  • Authentic Connection

It’s critically important to show up authentically or you can waste the limited time you have with them. I have read countless articles discussing how the pandemic has increased customers’ need for connection. You are not there for just a transaction. Just as important, you’re also there to provide them with human contact. It’s okay to bring some light fun or humor along with each sales call.

At the same time, the current issues of the day, supply chain issues or other problems are not going away soon. That’s why it’s so important to show up on time with an agenda to check in to see how the customer is doing. Be genuine and transparent about what you can offer. In doing so be ready to adjust, read the room and choose your timing carefully.

  • Active Listening

Ask questions and listen to what your customers have to say. It’s one thing to hear what your customers are saying. It’s quite another to actively listen to them. Start all your contacts with them by asking open-ended questions. Remember, you are looking for more than just “yes” or “no” answers. Get to know the politics, needs, requirements, the “why” of their needs. Listen and reflect back to them what you hear to make sure you understand. By the end of you meeting you should have a clear understanding of their needs. Also, take note of what they are not saying. Be sure to track information for future reference.

  • How to Communicate

What are the issues the customer is encountering? Make sure that one of the questions you ask is how they prefer to connect at the next follow-up. Gone are the days when the primary means of conducting a sales call were the in-person meeting or the phone call. Today you will likely find that you are communicating more often through a variety of channels than you had in the past. Learn how to effectively use those channels.

  • Empathy

Identifying or understanding others’ feelings can and should absolutely be employed in your dealings with customers. Never hesitate to put yourself in their shoes whether the matter concerns supply chain issues or dealing with a delayed product delivery. Make it a practice to restate the customers’ pain points and acknowledge your understanding of how that would make you feel. Humanize the situation.

Moving forward, make sure to respond promptly to requests. You’ve had success in meeting with the customer and been able to gather valuable information. Now do something about it!  Don’t over promise and under deliver. Turn that around and over deliver on anything you’ve committed to. Make sure you have a system to track when you should do so, and how.

  • Timely Connection

Remember, you’re in touch with the customer not just for the single sale. Your goal is to build relationships and be there for the long haul. That means making sure you follow up after each sale and stay attuned for feedback. What is the routine time to make regular check-ins with each customer? Choose the next visit date at the end of the current meeting to stay in tune with your customers’ expectations and shared goals.

Michelle Jobst, CPMR, is a graduate of the College of St. Catherine, St Paul, Minnesota with degrees in speech communications and international business economics. Jobst has over 20 years’ experience in technical sales; her work history includes experience in customer service and export. She is a member of the Rubber Division, ACS (American Chemical Society) and SPE (Society of Plastic Engineers). While she started working at Jobst Incorporated in 1994, she grew up with the business in her home when her father started out in 1978.

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