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Bad News Bearers

Several years ago, I was meeting with directors at an international investment bank the day after the stock market had taken a very serious plunge. The bank coincidentally had just finished rolling out a series of sales training programs for investment bankers. During our meeting, the directors began to get feedback on a key portion of the program—contacting clients when there is bad news. This sudden decline in the market filled that bill.

In the past, the bankers would wait for clients to contact them. The clients usually would be upset, many yelling and making gratuitous comments, so you can imagine the trepidation of the bankers at the prospect of taking the initiative to contact these angry clients first, portfolio managers who were holding stocks and funds the bankers had recommended and sold to them—stocks and funds that had lost a significant percentage of their value in just a few short hours. Calling clients at that moment felt like asking for trouble. The temptation was very strong to hold off on making first contact. Things were bad enough without pouring salt on this wound. No one wanted to risk being beat up any further.

Yet, some of the bankers who had gone through the sales training program overcame their fear and picked up the phone to make the calls. The result? Gratitude. Yes, that’s right, gratitude, for having had the guts to call and see how their clients were feeling, discuss the reasons it might have happened, and just plain commiserate. These portfolio managers, not known for being faint of heart, were consoled by the simple gesture of a phone call meant to reach out to them and help them buck up during a time of tremendous stress.

The result of those single, individual calls was enormous prestige bestowed on the investment bankers and their employer—just the opposite of what those who didn’t call received. A monumental amount of good will was generated. Clients told these bankers that they were the only ones who had called. Guess which investment bank got the next piece of business?

You might think about this story the next time things go wrong. I always do.

Copyright 2006 Ruth  Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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