The Best Offense is a Good Defense

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Reilly Sales Training research shows that top-achieving salespeople spend 80 percent of their time protecting and growing existing business. Top-achievers know that it’s better to keep an existing customer happy versus finding a new one.

In John Goodman’s book, Strategic Customer Service, he highlights the high cost of losing a customer. He shows that it costs up to 20 times more to win a new customer versus keep an existing one happy. Are you doing everything you can to keep your customers happy?

Steady, repeat business lulls salespeople into a false sense of security. This complacency leads to mediocre effort and little value creation. On the contrary, value-added salespeople work harder to retain the business than they did to win the business. Too many salespeople fail to realize that their best customers are the competitor’s best prospects.

Salespeople claim they don’t have time for retention calls. They say that with increased quotas and high-performance expectations, there is not enough time to call on existing customers. Ironically, there’s never time for retention calls, but there is always time to prospect to replace the business we lose. Wouldn’t it make more sense to double up your retention efforts?

Account protection and growth are not separate activities; they are part of a broader strategy called defensive selling. In defensive selling, you’re creating more value for the buyer and protecting existing business. Creating more value leads to more opportunities. Defensive selling is about working as hard to keep the business as you did to get the business.

Here are some defensive selling strategies to help you grow and protect your business with existing customers.

Process and People Support
Do you make it painless for customers to do business with you? When customers transition to your solution, they want the process to be smooth and seamless. Whether that customer is completely remodeling their kitchen or installing new hardwood, they want it to be easy. Make sure that you understand what the buyer expects from you during the transition. You cannot exceed buyer expectations until you first understand their expectations.

Tinkering is recreating value for existing customers. Tinkering is about having a productive discomfort with the status quo. Salespeople can become complacent. Complacent salespeople forget that their competitors are working harder to win the business than they are to keep the business. To help you tinker, ask yourself, “How can I make it easier to do business with our company?” and “What are some ways I can create more value for this customer?” Finding new ways to create value is critical to defensive selling.

Value Reinforcement
Value reinforcement is reminding the customer of the value you create and getting credit for the impact it has had on them. As most people are unaware of the air they breathe, most customers are unaware of the value they receive. Customers become accustomed to your value-added service and take it for granted. Sometimes customers forget about all the value you deliver. For that reason, it’s critical to remind customers of the value you deliver. If the customer forgets about your value, they focus more on price.

Find ways to remind the customer of the value you delivered. Post-project walkthroughs highlighting your value added is a great way for the buyer to see the value delivered. Customer satisfaction surveys and testimonials also reinforce the value you delivered.

Leveraging is a focused effort on growing your existing business. Leveraging is gaining maximum results with minimal effort. It’s more profitable to grow your business with existing customers. The cost to serve these customers is lower.

There are several different ways to leverage an existing customer relationship. You can expand the depth and breadth of products you offer customers. You can sell to additional locations. Ask for referral business. A referral is the easiest and most effective way to initiate contact with new prospects. The journal of marketing research found that a referral is worth 12 cold calls. Why knock on 12 doors when you can get a referral?

The defensive selling formula is simple: create more value for the customer, remind the customer of that value and its impact on their business, and grow your business by leveraging the customer relationship. The best offense is a good defense.

Paul Reilly is president of Reilly Sales Training, a St. Louis-based, privately owned company that specializes in training sales professionals, sales managers, and service professionals. Reilly Sales Training offers public seminars, in-house sales training programs, and hiring and training assessments. For additional information on training programs, call or email Paul at 636.778.0175 or You can also visit and sign up for his free newsletter.

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