5 Ways to Talk about Risk with Customers


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You’ve heard about building “fences” around accounts. By doing this, you protect them from predators or wandering off to other pastures. Many companies build these “fences” with discounts, product features, service offerings, etc. While these are good approaches to account management, they often don’t protect company interest. This is because they aren’t always aligned to the customer’s wants and needs.

A second option is to build a “fence” by adding further value to your customers. One technique in this vein is by discussing risk with them. When you voluntarily enter the fray with customers, you separate yourself as a partner. You demonstrate the will of character to face issues head on, and be proactive. Customers know that this can be the difference between success and failure.

The Risk Discussion Guide provides insight and direction on conducting risk discussions with customers.

W.C. Fields

‘A’ Player reps leave as little to chance as possible. To quote a scene from My Little Chickadee:

“Uh, is this a game of chance?”

Cousin Zeb

“Not the way I play it, no.”

W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee

Play your game like W.C. Fields. Here’s how.

How Do You Discuss Risk

These risk-based discussions can happen with a customer, prospect or even internally. The points of discussion will center on the four areas of concern regarding risk. Regardless of the context, all business discussions involve the following.

Categories of Risk to consider:

  1. Talent Do you have the talent you need? These are concerns over your staff’s ability to adopt and manage the solution. If they can’t carry out your sales strategy, they are a risk.
  2. Execution Can your goals realistically be hit? There are often concerns about whether the desired implementation timeline can be met.
  3. Financial What does your budget look like? These concerns center on implementation overruns.
  4. Operational These are concerns over potential business disruption during the transition to the new solution.
  5. Career (Optional 5th area of concern) Concerns over the personal impact from the decision.

Tony Albachiara discusses these four categories in detail in his blog. Tony’s blog is really the first step in the risk assessment process. He takes in depth looks at both understanding and implementing this process internally.

My blog, as a quasi-follow up, discusses how this process can also benefit your customers. This next section digs deeper into how this process can benefit customer relationships.

10 Ways Risk Discussions Help to Strengthen Your Position

So, you decide to enter into the world of risk with your customers. I understand that this could put you out of your comfort zone. You aren’t the first to feel this way. However, the potential benefits of this can strengthen the customer relationship for years. Here is a short list:

  1. Create a clear understanding between both parties on the potential organization risks and rewards. This discussion can happen on an overall strategy, as well as individual project, level. Furthermore, this type of visibility informs you with additional buyer insight or future sales.
  2. Assure a smooth implementation for your customers. This makes everyone look good, and feel productive. Furthermore, it increases the chance that the customer will buy from you again.
  3. Use the Risk Discussion Guide to help categorize the risks in a digestible way. Additionally each party is held accountable by the agreements.
  4. Help the customer address potential risks. By doing this, you officially establish your company as partners in their business. The fact that you are invested in their success can go a long way.
  5. Separate yourself from the competition by serving as a positive change agent. In this role you’re able to offer sound warnings. Furthermore, you can help the customer change direction if need be.
  6. Collaborate on the Risk Discussion Guide jointly, and make it a living document. It can be tweaked and updated to keep everyone aligned and aware of risk.
  7. Facilitate proactive discussion. This helps diffuse conflict and stress that may arise when a risk is realized. By pinpointing risks sooner, your customer becomes better prepared to deal with it.
  8. Make your customer look like a rock star. By addressing risk, you allow your customer to appear proactive. As a result, they’ll trust you as a partner. Partnerships lead to repeat business.
  9. Insight gained from risk discussions can be shared internally with your team. This will help to eliminate or mitigate risks before they become a problem.
  10. As a joint record of risk, use the Guide to reference successes and failures. Leverage this information to make improvements, identify best practices, and flag hazards.

Initiating conversations around risks may seem awkward at first. Once you begin these discussions and see the benefits, you’ll discover the value. It doesn’t only help your customers succeed. It doubles as a sales technique for your organization, thus also helping you succeed.

Don’t be thrown off by some customer resistance to the idea. Using the Risk Discussion Guide expands your abilities and value. Make it part of your standard operating procedure, and customers will appreciate it.

Image Credit: W.C Fields Illustration by Bill Levers and available through the W.C. Fields Fan Club

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joel McCabe
Joel McCabe serves as a Senior Consultant at Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), a sales and marketing consultancy focused exclusively on helping B2B companies exceed their revenue targets.


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