As Melinda sat in the parking lot reviewing in her mind how she’d like the meeting with her contact to go, she remembered the little snippet of information in the Sunday paper. There was a brief five-line item in the Business Briefs noting that a merger might be in the future. “Do I bring that up or not?” she wondered to herself.
“Melinda,” said George, “sorry to keep you waiting, but I’ve been dealing with a ton of stuff the past week.” He paused for moment as she sat down. “What was it that you wanted to see me about . . . if I remember correctly, the contract doesn’t come up for renewal for a another seven months.”
Melinda wasn’t sure how to ask George what it was she wanted to know. As the few seconds of silence ensued, she uncharacteristically felt the first twinges of panic.
“You look upset,” George said, “don’t tell me you’re leaving, and I have to get used to another rep. Anything but that.”
“George, it isn’t that. Actually, I was concerned that you’d be leaving, and I wouldn’t know where you’d be.”
“So, I see you read the Business Briefs.”
Melinda nodded in agreement.
“Here’s what you should know at this point,” stated George, “if, if mind you, the merger happens, I’ll probably be out. But, and this is likely good news, I know the person who’d be taking over this position, and she likes to deal locally. Second, while the plans aren’t definite just yet, a couple of us here might be forming our own company. Needless to say, we’ll need suppliers who have reps like yourself.”
Melinda sat for a moment looking at George. “This type of change seems to be happening more and more.”
“Nature of today’s business. If the merger does go, my replacement will be purchasing locally,” he said, staring at Melinda before going on, “for the entire Western division.”
“Do you,” she responded, “see any reason why the two of us couldn’t continue doing business, regardless of what happens in the future?”
“At this moment, none at all.”
Melinda is establishing a business future with both George and his possible replacement before any business change occurs. This is a lot better than hoping nothing happens, as so often is the case.
Salespeople, in general, frequently move on to other companies. There are many reasons: lack of performance at the former, poor product line, perhaps the former company was poorly run. The list of possible reasons is long.
In addition to this well-known situation, for the past ten years or so, down-sizing has become a fact of life, regardless of one’s title. Your current contact at Acme Widgets may shortly be replaced, if he hasn’t been already. When your contact is replaced, what’s the first thing that runs through your mind?
“I have to start all over again to sell to this company. The new person just might decide to review all past purchases to see if a better deal can be struck.”
Off you go, hoping that your former contact put in the good word for you. It’s a fact of sales life.
What’s missing in this? Your former contact at that company is still someone who knows you, your product and has, hopefully, a good history with you. That person will either start his own business or be hired by another company in a similar business.
If you take steps before the inevitable change takes place, you can continue to “sell” your former contact—but only if you start early.
The first step in selling former contacts is mental. Before they become “formers,” you must look upon them as something more than a signature on the contract. Change your view of them from being a potential obstacle that has to be overcome in making a sale to a partner in making the sale.
Face the fact that without them, you wouldn’t make the sale. Once you see your contact as a partner, he will also come to view you as a partner. Note that you don’t have to become social friends, but rather partners in doing business.
Tell your contact early on that you want to continue doing business regardless of the inevitable changes that are occurring in the business world. In most instances he will ask you what you mean. As Melinda found out, this type of conversation can lead to useful and potentially lucrative information.
Do you want to start all over again every five to seven years?
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