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Surprised When Your Longtime Customer Walks?

The Situation

Ramon sells industrial hardware to manufacturers. Karen has been a longtime, steady customer. The two don’t have a contractual agreement, but like clockwork, every two months Karen purchases a good-sized order of basic hardware for assembling her company’s deck furniture.

Once in a while, Ramon gives Karen a call when he has some new products that might interest her. He always ends his conversations with, “If you have any problems or need anything else, let me know.”

Out of the Blue?

The other day, Ramon contacted Karen, and she said:

Karen: I’m glad you called, Ramon. I was going to let you know that after this next order, we’re going with BigTown Steel for our hardware.
Ramon: Wow! Karen…this is so out of nowhere! I wish I had a chance to match whatever offer you got from them. I mean, you seemed happy with us. You could have talked to me if there was a problem.

What Went Wrong?

And so it went — Ramon flabbergasted, Karen trying to explain, but also uncomfortable having a drawn-out conversation at this point.

You may shake your head and decide that Ramon must have been Q2 complacent. But he had checked in with Karen regularly. What would a Q4 collaborative salesperson have done differently to avoid this kind of shocker?

Never the Same

It’s said that a person never steps in the same river twice. That’s because the river is never the same.


As with a river, you can never assume that your regular customers just stay the same. Their company’s status in the marketplace may change. They may have new budgets, new conditions placed on them, or different goals handed to them.


While it’s easy to judge Ramon as being too self-satisfied or simply lazy, many salespeople feel they have to neglect regular customers out of necessity. Staffing cuts suddenly double their client list. They are required to do more prospecting or cold calling. Time has to be borrowed from somewhere, and that often means spending less time checking in with steady customers.


Q4 Communication Is Efficient

A very beneficial aspect of Q4 selling is that it helps you be more effective with people when you make contact. You have learned how to probe efficiently. Q4 behavior means knowing to ask open-end questions that result in learning about changes and quickly adapting to them.


Ramon could have checked in with Karen with better engagement: “Karen, I heard about the aluminum shortage in your industry. Your products use a lot of aluminum tubing. How is this affecting you?”


If Karen responded with concern, Ramon could have allowed her to vent while probing more to formulate a specific response, positioning himself as a problem solver. “I can see it’s tough. You know, we could defer billing on your orders for the next couple of months, if that would help.”


Learn What Has Changed

Although we’ve simplified the example to make a point, the idea is that by probing, Ramon could learn how Karen’s needs have changed, both professionally and personally. He could also size up Karen’s behavior. Perhaps, she is acting Q1 indignant or Q2 resentful, feeling that Ramon hadn’t shown enough concern for her problems. That’s when a competitor stepped in to do what Ramon should have done.


It’s not that, as salespeople, we don’t know these things. Q4 selling is often about applying common sense. By really communicating, you can better retain those loyal customers. The river is never the same, but you can use a relatively short amount of time to learn what has changed in order to keep those good customers.