Selling When Your Business Has Had a Negative Perception Event

When a business has had a negative perception event, panic can set in among its salespeople. It make things tougher for them, especially when competitors smartly use it to their advantage and begin to take away accounts.

Every business is capable of making mistakes, but it is what you do when your business has had a negative perception event that will make the difference between disaster or recovery, or even greater brand loyalty.

Take ownership for mistakes

The very worst thing to do when your business has had a negative perception event is to shirk responsibility and deny fault when it is abundantly clear that your firm made the mistake. The credibility of your company and its top brass will be hurt, and any future promises you make will be met with some skepticism — a tough hurdle to overcome when selling.

As stated by Georgia Tech’s College of Management assistant professor Manpreet Hora in a study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, “Consumers are forgiving, so if a firm apologizes, acknowledges the problem, and doesn’t make the mistake again and again, consumers will continue to be loyal to that brand.”

So, the first step is to decide to own the problem, and simply apologize for it. But don’t take too long.

Act quickly

One common negative scenario is the product recall. Handled poorly, it can spell disaster, as in the case of Toyota’s 2009 recall of four million vehicles, which is estimated to not only have cost the company $1 billion and dropped sales 16 percent, but eroded much of the goodwill the brand had enjoyed up to that point.

When Toyota suffered this huge PR and financial flap after issues (and a fatality) arising from sticky gas pedals, it was attributed to the car manufacturer’s slow response in addressing the matter. In fact, it was the media which forced the company to finally respond publicly, but from a much weaker position than if they had proactively come out on their own.

When your business has had a negative perception event, it is time to get the CEO and salespeople out there immediately to speak with all existing clients and prospects.

  • Provide consistent information, letting the community know exactly what occurred and dispelling rumors. DO NOT repeat the rumors, just provide the actual facts. Let the rumors die on their own by providing truth.
  • Explain the steps taken to remedy the issue thus far, and what remains to be done.
  • Describe plans to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

Brands that handle negative events responsibly can even increase brand loyalty by demonstrating their commitment to providing superior service and solving problems when they occur.

Give something extra

One last quick tip: while you don’t want to appear overly propitiative, it is cheaper to greatly ramp up the service, provide discounts, and otherwise give something extra (for a limited time) to existing clients and prospects in order to prevent runaway business.

The point is to make a bigger splash with your vastly improved service and superior limited time pricing than anyone can make by pointing out your problems.

A negative event can happen to the best of us. Don’t let it ruin your business — take the above advice to heart and you might find yourself in a stronger position than before the event took place.


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