• Joe Vandervest

Sales Rep Changes Impact Customers

Sales rep turnover impacts customers in ways that vendor organizations may not always consider.  When organizations change reps frequently it really chews into the business relationship between the organizations - precisely because these relationships are based on relationships between people.

In this post, I’d like to focus on inside sales reps - since most places don’t have field sales reps unless they are independent agents.

We all understand that reps move on from company to company to seek new opportunities.  We also all understand that small businesses or low volume businesses don’t get as much sales support as large “enterprise customers.”

Sales Rep Turnover Impact Customer Perceptions

Vendor companies should not underestimate the positive impact a dedicated inside sales rep can have on the quality of a business relationship.

From a customer’s standpoint, especially a customer that is regularly ordering items from a vendor, changing the inside sales rep can be tumultuous and chip away at an otherwise solid provider-customer relationship.

Why?  Simply, the longer one works with an inside sales rep, the more orders quoted and processed, the stronger the provider-customer relationship gets. Considering the learning about one another’s organizations that happens through the sales relationship and considering the understanding of each businesses’ processes that grows, changing sales reps usually tears away that understanding of one another’s business context.

Going out on a limb here, but most customers would rather work with a stable inside sales rep who understands their constraints, their purchase process, and has an idea of their business cycle, than work with an inside sales rep who gets changed out every couple of months, or where there’s no single sales rep assigned.

Value of Long Term Inside Sales Reps

Here’s an example: we have a vendor who we have been working with for about 10 years. We frequently order IT related items from them. They even manage some of our service licenses.  We aren’t a reseller of theirs - their inside sales rep always just made it easy to work with them, and grew to learn our business. This vendor is our first stop for all quotes - even those for our clients. 

About 4 months ago, the one rep we had for 9 years deservedly got a significant promotion.  Part of the promotion was that we fell out of the tier he was now working on and, despite his efforts, we got passed on to a new sales rep.

Okay - that’s great. We haven’t had a change in so long - we were asking for a change. So we invested time in working with this new rep. Reviewing our order processes, getting to know his strengths, allowing him to see ours. We thought great - we probably have a year with this new guy. Wrong - the new guy got a promotion and needs to turn over our account to someone else.  We'll probably go even lower down the sales food chain.

That’s what is frustrating with rep turnover - having to start over and teach the new person all about our business, how we operate etc.  When reps change frequently and if you have many vendors - you’ll quikly end up in a string of irritating, repetitive, “get to know your business” phone calls.

Plea to Vendors

So - vendors - please come up with a solid strategy for changing reps that focuses on the customer.  It’s not just about “get to know you” phone calls.  You should be using your CRM, you should, especially if there’s a promotion not a separation, ensure that the promoted rep has sufficient time to brief and “on-board” the new rep with the clients assigned to them.

Reading account and contact history is important before the FIRST call is placed to the customer.  So - I know how terrible it sounds, especially for sales people - be sure to collect and keep current notes on your customers. The more you know about your customers - the more you can call them with appropriate incentives, new products, and deals.  The more you know about your customers the better you’ll be able to work out issues and problems that arise... Things like delivery issues, inventory issues, quoting and or billing errors, etc.

From our perspective, when reps turn over frequently, it discourages us from having anything more than a transactional relationship with the vendor.  

What can vendors do?

How can vendors lessen the pain of rep turnover to their customers and still encourage a deeper than transactional relationship?  Here are just a few ideas:

  • New Rep Meeting - provide a discount on next order, send useful freebies like Chromebooks, etc. All as a gesture to make up for the time spent in another “get acquainted” video conference or telephone call. Show that you understand the pain of starting over - but that it’s important to YOU that we have more than a transactional business relationship.

  • Required Reading - Before the first call or email is sent by the new rep, be 100% positive that they have visited the company website, read through the last year or so of CRM notes about purchasers at the customer’s company, get familiar with pay cycles, payments, types and quantities of things ordered, get a sense of when in the course of the year items are ordered, read up on the customer’s budgeting process - at least what you know.  Then when the call happens - ask the customer incisive questions that show even though the rep is NEW, they are already familiar with important aspects of the relationship.

While everyone is interested in growth and raising expertise and levels, changing inside sales reps can damage existing long term business relationships based on the familiarity between inside rep and customer. Stability has a significant value, changing it can damage that same relationship.  

Think and Plan Transitions

Thinking about, planning and implementing a smooth transition of reps is the best way to alleviate customer fear and mitigate risk to existing business relationships.