Not a week goes by without getting a frantic call from a customer that goes something like this: “I think I am losing a customer to a managed print service program offered by a competitor — what do I do now?” My first response to this statement is typically, “you probably have already lost it, but let’s dig in and see what can be saved.”

If you find yourself in this situation, you need to really focus on fact-finding and understanding how far the competitor or competitors have infiltrated your account.

Has the competitor installed a data collection agent (DCA) software or has your client provided a report to them? This is critical to know how much actual data the competitor had on the current fleet to present their proposal, or if they are working off assumptions you can potentially debunk.

Has the competitor installed “demo” equipment such as their brand of MFP or print device? This is a big red flag that the client has allowed them a great deal of access and is testing new machines. You need to understand what features/functionality they are really looking for in a professional way. Remember, do not be defensive or act desperate — just fact find.

Has the competitor been given access to the physical office environment to do an assessment or a walk-through? This is important; if they did, is there anything in the physical environment that is “low hanging fruit” for them to use to create doubt about your solution? I cover this later in the article but if attacked, be prepared to explain things with a business case for why it is being delivered or provided that way.

Has the competitor already provided their pricing/proposal? If yes, is your customer asking you to lower or beat the competitor’s price? This is a rough place to be in, but if you are being asked to match a competitor’s price or lower your price with a current account, you really need a copy of the bid or the proposal to compare so you can see if the competitor’s proposal is even a comparable offering. You need to review the equipment list, specs, SLA and consumables type. Not all MPS proposals and offerings are created equal — look to differentiate and add value and not just lower your price.

Is this a customer you can afford to keep? While there are times you can come back in and retain an account under attack, there may be other times you need to decide whether strategically, it may be better to walk away. While painful, none of us should be in the business of writing MPS contracts that are unprofitable. Just throwing out a lower cost per page in order to save an account may come back to haunt you by costing you money at the end. Take your time, do the analysis and respond with what makes sense for all parties involved.

Next, you need to get real and look at your process to determine what allowed a competitor to get in your account in the first place.

Did the client request a fleet report and did it raise red flags? Depending on the size of your dealership and your program support structure, you need to make sure sales and operations are on the same page when a client is requesting any type of fleet report or spreadsheet that could be shared with a competitor. It is a best practice to have your customer service team involve the sales rep/account manager in any requests or responses to such inquiries.

Are you monitoring your clients’ accounts for new equipment being added? If that is not equipment your sales team sold, you need to proactively contact the client to add the devices to your contract (if you can support them) or fact-find why they are there. Again, this means aligning and connecting your back-end support team with sales. Simply put, knowledge is power, and any changes need to be escalated to your MPS specialists or the account rep.

Did your team conduct consistent periodic business reviews? These could be quarterly/semi-annually or ad hoc, but getting in front of the client with multiple stakeholders is key to making sure your solutions objectives are being delivered to them correctly and identifying any new business initiatives or staff/decision-maker changes, etc. If you are not conducting this key meeting within your accounts, now is the time to implement this in your account support and ongoing sales process. Never assume everything is OK; some clients won’t complain or speak up to you unless you ask.

Are your relationships deep enough into the account? This question is asking you to look at both sides of the relationship. Depending on how your dealership is structured, you may have an MPS specialist who prepares and presents your business review data. I work with many dealerships that focus the sales rep on hunting/high-level relationships and have analysts or specialists work in tandem on account reviews. It is imperative that the sales rep stay engaged under this model. And for larger or key accounts I encourage sales managers and even owners to consider attending at least one of the review meetings annually.

Next, you need to expand who you include in the audience for these meetings. Get deep and wide into the account and include IT, purchasing, key financial managers and even line-of-business managers. Don’t allow these meetings to always be one-on-one within the organization as many accounts are lost when the competitor is calling on someone higher up in the organization than your main contact.

Are you really managing the fleet and being strategic with your offering? A successful MPS sales process starts with uncovering pain points related to the process and devices related to prints. Does your offering continue to be pain-free for your clients? I am not suggesting any of us are perfect, but how you react and solve issues is important.

In addition, what are other ways to continue to improve your offering or add value within your existing clients? To me, there is nothing worse than losing an account because a competitor came in talking about document management, printer security, sustainability and recycling programs, or other solutions you could also provide but assumed the client was not interested in. This goes back to your business review meeting agenda and making sure you leave no needs uncovered.

And the other obvious point to make here is, why do you or did you have any customers still in a transactional bucket? Managed print services is not defined by how you bill or what solutions you bundle, but it is about solving pain points and contracting the revenue affiliated with supporting those devices. The ugly truth is, too often we have clients that leave transactional buyers alone and assume they do not want advanced or bundled solutions. The deeper ugly truth is that may be true if you are still selling to low-level contacts, but your competitors can easily displace you by selling higher into the organization. Now is the time to review your book of transactional business and determine if that is the best approach going forward for all involved.

Don’t ever uninstall a DCA on a client that is leaving you. One of my favorite case studies involves a dealer who lost a major account to a competitor that was promising a lot of SLAs my dealer knew deep down were not possible based on prior experience and client feedback on that customer. So he left the DCA up and running for over a year and pulled error reports, downtime alerts and even consumables alerts to go back in and win the account back. While a client leaving you is painful, don’t give up, because if you treat them professionally during the separation process, you may well turn it into a returning customer in the future.

If you have not been in the position recently to lose a customer to a competitor’s MPS solution — knock wood. For those of you in the midst of this frustration, it takes discipline and communication to ward off future attacks.

Sarah Henderson serves on the Board of the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA) and has more than 15 years of experience in managed print.