“Troy,” the business owner said, “When I hire a new sales rep, I always give them a few of my own accounts to help them get their territory going. What’s the best way to make that handoff happen?” This question came from an attendee at a recent seminar I gave in Las Vegas. It’s a good question.
Handing off accounts – or transitioning territories – is a potentially touchy task. Our salespeople build relationships with customers, and for whatever reason, we are severing one relationship to start another. Comfortable customers buy; one of the most uncomfortable moments for a customer is when a new salesperson takes over their account. Here are five ways to take the discomfort out, and keep their business intact.
1. Give the customer plenty of warning. Customers don’t like surprises. They like it even less when the surprise has to do with the point person for their business. So, one key to a smooth transition is to warn the customer ahead of time, and give them an opportunity to mentally adjust to the idea of a new salesperson before they have to adjust to the reality of a new salesperson. Sometimes this isn’t possible (for instance, in the case of a sudden change in personnel), but oftentimes it is possible. If you have a senior rep who’s leaving, if you as a manager are transitioning some of your own accounts, or even if you’re just doing a territory realignment, you need to be giving your customer a heads-up. And put a completely positive spin on it.
2. Make the handoff in person. The handoff should be made in person, preferably from the old salesperson to the new salesperson in real time and at a face-to-face meeting. This allows the past salesperson (with whom the trust has been established) to introduce the new person, and in doing so, the past salesperson is giving the new salesperson his endorsement. This should mean that the “new guy” doesn’t have to build a relationship from scratch. In those cases where the past salesperson isn’t available to make the handoff (for instance, the past salesperson abruptly quit or got fired), a manager (you) should conduct this meeting. You do have your own relationships with key customers, right?
3. Train the new salesperson. The biggest fear of the customer is that there will be a drop in service levels when the new salesperson takes over. Don’t let that happen. Make sure that the new salesperson is trained to a reasonable level of competence; you won’t be able to replace 20 years of experience with a training session, but the new person should understand your company’s products and services, as well as knowing your sales process and culture. Good onboarding and training can get a new salesperson to about 70-75 percent of the effectiveness of a veteran. Make sure that the salesperson is at this level before the handoff.
4. Give extra support to the new salesperson. You may need to devote extra resources to the new salesperson handling the account(s) for a while. That means extra support personnel, more of your time, increased quality checks. The most critical issue here is that the customer perceives no drop in customer service levels – and if the customer perceives a raise in service levels, that’s even better. While you’re at it, devote extra management time to the transition. Don’t be afraid to follow up individually with the customers to make sure that they are happy with the transition. The critical piece is that relationships stay intact between your company and your customers.
5. Don’t force the customers to accept a bad deal. If you transition a lot of customers, invariably you’ll have at least one where you have an unhappy customer. No matter how good the new salesperson is, there’s likely to be a personality conflict between a legacy customer and a new rep. When that happens, don’t force the customer to accept a salesperson that they don’t want to deal with. Remember – one way or another, the customer will cut that salesperson out of the process, either with you or without you. That means that, sometimes, you have to make the uncomfortable decision to move an account. Don’t be afraid to do it – and unless it’s a pattern, don’t blame the salesperson. Personality conflicts will happen.
You should, of course, allocate your time wisely. If you classify your accounts on the old “A/B/C” system, focus most of your handoff efforts on the A’s, the B’s, and maybe a few high “C’s,” and let the salesperson fly on his/her own in the low “C’s.”
Whether you’re transitioning one account or a whole territory, keep these steps in mind if you want a successful transition.