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How Sales Reps can Turn Bad Press Into Good Outbound Calls

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It was the video seen around the world: a screaming man with a bloodied face was being 
dragged by the arms down the aisle of a United Express airliner.  The incident in April of 2017 happened because he refused to give up his seat when asked by United officials. The moment caught by passengers on cell phones went viral — was seen by millions — and created an instant worldwide anger. A public relations nightmare! Calls for boycotts of the airlines and to cut-up the airline’s credit cards went out the next day. And this was United’s second PR disaster within weeks. In March, they had caused a worldwide stir by barring two young girls with leggings from boarding a flight.

 Officials at United said that their attire violated the dress code. Cries of sexism echoed around the world. Calls for boycotts followed. How could a company possibly recover and make anything good come out of a travesty such as that?

In 2016, the pharmaceutical company Mylan faced a tidal wave of outrage when it raised the cost of its EpiPen, a life saving injection device for people with severe allergies. In 2007, the cost was about $100 for a set. In 2016, the price had risen to over $600. Doctors routinely advise patients to carry a them at all times. A cry rose from parents of children with severe allergies who keep multiple sets for home, school, car, and who also replace them annually. A petition circulated on social media which caught over 48,000 signatures requesting Mylan to “Stop the EpiPen Price Gouging.” Shouts of “It’s obscene! Mylan is gouging parents!” could be heard everywhere. The cries were even loud enough to catch Washington’s ears, which convened two Senate hearings, resulting in Mylan reimbursing Medicaid and Medicare $465 million. How do you recover as a company from something like that?

How do you, as a business, move forward, face the public, and ask them to trust you again and purchase your services or goods, if, as in the case of United and Mylan, you have become a worldwide disgrace? Well, there is something about a banned substance that gets a lot of attention, something about a bad event which draws a big crowd. In 1989, a little known rap group had their second album banned in the United States by a court in Florida. The attention due to the “bad press” built up so much that when a subsequent court overturned the ruling and the album was released, it sold 2 million copies in one year and turned the group into overnight superstars.

In the business world, how you react to fixing the problem makes a major difference in the customer’s perception of your company. When problems arise, you could stay the course and fight back. However, it’s usually best to respond quickly, honestly and decisively, without putting up a defensive posture. If it is clear to the public that you are in the wrong, then it is essential that you own up to it, be responsible and apologize. It’s advised to not say “no comment” – because it makes you seem like you are in the wrong, yet feel no regret or guilt about it. So, it’s best to face up to the problem, so you can start mending the reputation of your business.

If you’re a sales rep conducting lead generation, honesty is really the best policy. Check with your PR department–don’t look in your CRM System–on how to explain the situation clearly to your customers and prospects. The apology is often a burden the sales reps need to undertake. And the apology shouldn’t be penned by lawyers. The salesperson needs deliver it from the heart when trying to generate business leads in the wake of bad PR.

Bad publicity can offer sales reps a chance to show how decent their business is — how it does the right thing — how honest and trustworthy it is, even when it does the wrong thing. Taking a bad PR situation not as an obstacle or setback, but as an opportunity is a unique position for a SDRs, ISRs and outside sales reps. It’s a chance to help make better relationships in your outbound calls, by showing your customers that you can solve their problems and attend to their cares. Yes, the sales team can turn angry prospects to valued pipeline sales opportunities.  In fact, it’s been reported that 70% of customers will return if you resolve their complaints. And if you do so in a quick, honest, clear way, your company may even benefit from your keen sales expertise.

Time will tell how well United and Mylan fare. United has recently apologized and changed their policies. Mylan is offering rebates, but staying the course and pointing at the healthcare industry as a whole for the hike in pricing. Follow the PR of both companies for tips that you could use in your situation–sales teams are the #1 company evangelists–you may find a roadmap out of troubles.

Author: Senraj Soundar, CEO, ConnectLeader

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