Why Did You Lose that Big Account?

Last Updated Jul 3, 2009 3:13 PM EDT

The post "How to Cope With Losing a Big Account" generated a reader comment so brilliant that I'm raising it to the level of a full post. In that comment, frequent Sales Machine contributor IanP provides some true business wisdom about why companies lose big accounts -- and what to do to prevent it. Here's the comment, slightly edited by yours truly.


Why did you lose that big, long-standing account? Probably due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • REASON #1. The competition undercut you in price. This happened because sales rep wasn't serving the customer well, by not understanding that new market dynamics were forcing the price down. Alternatively, the buyer may not have realized that the new vendor was using loss leaders to win the account. If so, the customer will pay heavily in the future, because he'll adjust his cost structures to match an artificial and temporary price.
  • REASON #2 The customer was unhappy with your service. This is probably the most important and common reason for switching suppliers. Far too many sales reps switch off when a customer becomes a routine call and forget to 'sell' to them. A good sales rep always treats a repeat order as a new sale and makes sure existing customers are visited regularly. A significant secondary role of every sales rep is to act as the customer's change agent within the vendor company and to champion the customer's needs and schedules against other priorities.
  • REASON #3 The competition offered something extra to win the sale. As with the reasons above, the sales rep man wasn't paying attention, understanding what his customer really wanted and what would tempt him to switch suppliers. This is what 'added value' really is in the B2B world. A sales rep's primary role is to glean this information!
  • REASON #4 The customer's needs changed. Perhaps the customer's market changed and the old vendor didn't fit the bill. This has the same cause as reason #2: the sales rep wasn't doing the job effectively. The rep should be constantly advising his or her own firm when technology or markets change.
By the way, the loss of a long standing account should never be a surprise. If it is, then the sales rep has failed to communicate effectively, either with his customer or with his employer... and usually both.

Remember, though, the fault can run the other way, too, so don't rush too quickly to blame yourself!

A truly professional buyer remains in touch with different levels in the long-standing vendor company (e.g. with the sales desk or a 'C' level sales executive) and should be flagging failures and changes. At the very least, the buyer should be giving appropriate notice of changes in buying policy, so that the vendor can absorb the pain.


READERS: If you like this post, please let IanP know in a comment!