Your company’s inactive customer accounts can be a rich source of new business. Finding out why they stopped buying from your company is crucial to winning them back. Very often it all starts with a complaint that went unresolved. At other times there could be problems with payment or terms. And in surprisingly many cases, they simply forgot about you!
While we advise you take steps now to revive dormant customer accounts, it is equally important to review these dormant accounts before you do anything to revive them, otherwise your efforts may be inappropriate and may reinforce any negative perceptions they hold.
STEP 1: A good starting point will be to conduct an internal review with your own team. Find out from existing records and documents what were the last sets of transactions and businesses done with your organization. Gather people from customer service, support, sales and marketing, and even colleagues who were directly or indirectly involved in managing the account in the past, and ask questions to uncover any known issues. In some cases, you may even have to speak with people who have left your organization. The focus is to get as much status information as possible on the state of the relationship.
STEP 2: Then use the information you gather as the basis for your initial engagement to start reconnecting with contacts in the account. CAVEAT: If you send any correspondences at this stage be careful not to be seen to be selling, rather craft your emails or letters in such a way that you connect with what they as individuals working in the customer organization would like to identify with. In other words, let your correspondences state the reason why they should make time in their schedule to talk to you – whether face-to-face or over the phone.
STEP 3: Next, restart individual Relationships. When account relationships go bad for B2B organizations, restarting it is often best done by contacting individuals in the organization who may have a history of what went wrong. These people can often be found in the customer’s Procurement Department, Logistics or Supply Chain, the User departments, and even in Finance, or other departments. At other times you may need to schedule appointments with key decision makers and senior executives at the customer organization to indicate your organization’s continued desire to be part of their business journey.
Overall, keep a positive outlook as you meet with the key people in the buying organization. Aim to uncover known and hidden issues. Usually, a failed service or a bungled delivery can be traced or determined from records. But individual disappointments, loss of face, and such other ‘personal’ issues that key people in the buyer organization experienced could be the hidden reasons, and the people affected often may not say it even when you ask.
Case in point– a major courier company was trying to reactivate a major corporation account in the financial services sector. The account used to ship tons of mails and light parcels all over the world with the courier company, and suddenly the lights went off on the business, and remained so for a long time. A new account manager trying to revive the dormant account was able to uncover the ‘formal’ issues, mainly around service levels, pricing and terms, and she proceeded to resolve them. Surprisingly the relationship still remained stagnant afterwards. What she couldn’t easily uncover were the ‘personal’ issues which staff in the mail room were unwilling to disclose to her. After some persistent prodding and digging, it boiled down to the courier company’s use of electronic Proofs-of-Delivery! This created a layer of work that resulted in mail room staff closing late and sometimes even having to work weekends. They felt the paper based ones were much more easily reconciled than the digital files, “you can work even in the absence of power and still get your work done”, they told her. But apparently their boss and the boss of the courier company gave little consideration to their views and inputs concerning going electronic, but somehow still left them to decide who they used for what parcels and shipments. And so the paper guys (competitors) had it!
In working to reactivate dormant accounts, open communication can be your best tool. Document all issues raised and share with your internal team, then cycle that with the key account team to be sure that everyone is on the same page. You may also set a calendar of issues resolution (or an order of issues to be resolved) basically showing the progression of how each and all the issues will be dealt with, according to a timeline.
Be honest in your approach and suppress the urge to sell them something during the initial reactivation period. We have seen some horror stories of the buy-something-now-and-we-will-reactivate-you scenarios where customers don’t feel right with a sales person asking for more business in the face of unresolved issues. This could result in your original intent being questionable.
Sometimes you do all you can and find you are still unable to reactivate some accounts as quickly as you may want to. So in cases where the differences are still irresolvable, may be due to positions taken in your organizations or in the client organization, or in both, then you may jolly well move on to other accounts for now. Plan a future date to revisit the account. Sometimes a cool-off period is all an account needs to be on the path to a successful reactivation.