There are times when doing the right thing is not at all intuitive -- when our instincts can actually lead us down the wrong path. This is often the case when handling customer objections. Often our first impulse is to immediately jump in with a solution to the objection or issue, thinking we are going to sweep the customer off his/her feet, be the hero, win the business and save the day. In reality, this behavior can cost us business and put customer relationships at risk.
A sales manager from the Chicago area recently shared this simple yet revealing story about the use of LAER. You may remember seeing pictures of cars parked and abandoned on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago during some of their more brutal winter storms. This event took place during one such storm. I will paraphrase to the best of my ability to capture the event as the sales manager shared it - this sales manager was taking the place of a sales rep who had been promoted. The company had not yet found a replacement. He called on an account that, until recently, had been an "A" customer. By late winter their purchasing dropped to zero. As the manager met with the account contact - an Operations Manager - he let the customer know why he was calling on him and after a few moments of conversation said that the company appreciated their business and had noticed that they had not placed any orders since late winter. The customer said, 'Yes, that's right. You guys missed a delivery during the big snow storm.' Knowing that fact before he called, and suspecting that was the case, the manager was prepared with a great solution: We have contracted a new delivery company that guarantees delivery in up to 24 inches of snow. They have all 4wd vehicles. He was about to share his planned (I am going to be the hero, win the account back, win raving fans) response when the LAER model popped into his mind. He thought, what the heck, might as well give it a try.
So instead of telling the customer his planned solution, this is how the interaction unfolded:
Sales Manager: "I sure remember that storm." (Acknowledge/A) What happened? (Explore/E)
Customer: "Ron (the former rep) confirmed the delivery and ship date like he always does the week before." (Listen/L)
Sales Manager: "Uh huh." (A) "Then what?" (E)
Customer: "Well it began to snow like the forecasters said it would and by the next morning I was worried about whether we'd have a work crew in and also whether we'd get your shipment on time. I told the guys on the dock in the morning that we were expecting the shipment and to let me know as soon as it arrived. By mid-morning we had a skeleton crew but by noon we still hadn't heard from you guys. Probably we wouldn't have gotten enough product off the line that day to need it anyway, but it was at that moment that I said to myself, "The heck with these people. If they don't have the professional courtesy to call and confirm what I already suspect, I'll do business elsewhere."
(L)So the issue was not the missed delivery per se - in fact in the end they didn't even need the product that day. The issue was "communication." No one communicated with the customer to keep him informed. Telling him about a new delivery company with 4WD vehicles would have totally missed the essential issue - lack of communication. With this insight the sales manager was able to RESPOND (not react) in the following manner: He apologized for both the missed delivery and especially his company's poor communication (which the customer seemed to appreciate). He mentioned their new delivery contract and assured the customer it would help in the future to avoid a repeat occurrence.
The company immediately began ordering from the supplier and everything has gone well since then.
The point is that customers don't always know exactly why they're angry. This customer merely remembered that he got upset when a delivery was missed. Only after thinking about it because he was asked via the Explore step in LAER did he get in touch with the fact that it was more about a lack of communication than it was the missed delivery.
The Explore step in LAER gave the customer an opportunity to vent, be heard and diffuse their anger. Once he did, it was essentially out of his system, allowing his business relationship with the supplier to mend and move forward once again.
In the end, the sales manager still made his original Response point about the new delivery company, but as a result of using LAE, that information had more impact because it was delivered in Response to the customer's feedback. The Response was in the Odds Are of the customer.
The natural, instinctive reaction from the sales manager would have been to reassure the customer that the new delivery contract would solve future delivery issues... and he would have totally missed the point. LAER works! I hope you are using it to leverage your own sales success.