A very important customer once deceived me. This customer was my most important distributor. I had worked with this gentleman for years and trusted him. You can imagine my shock and disappointment. Business that was promised to me went to a competitor. The lost deal cost my company over $1 Million. I did not handle the situation as best as I could have. Here’s what I did with a suggestion of how you can deal with deception in sales.
Here’s what happened.
I worked with a distributor’s salesman who sold many different lines of products including my company’s products. I agreed to make sales calls with this salesman and help him increase his business. There was one condition which was when we made joint sales calls that he only sell my company’s products.
I said he was free to sell whichever company’s products he chose when he made sales calls by himself. I certainly hoped that my working with him would make him prefer my products to sell. We made many joint sales calls and I increased his business significantly.
Then I found out he switched products from mine to one of his other lines at one of our largest accounts. I was livid. What made the discovery even worse was I learned this salesman knew the customer was going to test a competitor’s product before the switch. He never shared the information with me. This salesman betrayed me and my trust in him.
Why was the customer testing products? This salesman gave him lower pricing for my competitor’s products. This salesman could have asked me for pricing support. He never did. Why? He made more commission on my competitor’s product.
Here’s what I did wrong. (Don’t accuse first.)
I called him immediately when I learned he had betrayed my trust. My thought was to be calm. I asked him how he could betray my trust. He was embarrassed that he got caught and then he got angry with me. That did it. I told him what he did was wrong and I never expected him to deceive someone with a broken promise.
I should have never made that call without thinking of all the possible outcomes that could happen. Then I should have prepared all the responses I could have made. I never created a good strategy. I could not imagine this quiet, religious guy attacking me.
What happened after and what could I have done differently?
He wasn’t happy to work with me after, as you could imagine. My business with him suffered. Then again, I couldn’t really trust him to work with either.
What I should have done is think through the possible outcomes that could have been win/win. I should have started with the question, “What happened with Customer X and his product change?” Always assume innocence instead of guilt. I started with the accusation instead of asking him what happened. That might have changed the direction of the conversation. Perhaps he could have apologized for that error and not done it again. Yes, I still would have lost that account, but not more business. I also would have learned that he was untrustworthy and my actions would have changed. I wouldn’t make joint calls on strategic accounts with him.
Sun Szu said to keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Once you learn you have an enemy, don’t first accuse. Ask questions to let them hang themselves.