How to Handle Difficult Customers

August 25, 2023
5 minutes to read
difficult customers
Copy link


A few years ago my dentist once told me I had two cavities–one was a tiny one and the other quite large.  “Which one do you want me to do first?”  The dentist asked.  I didn’t hesitate a second.  “The small one,” I said. “Okay,” he replied.  “We’ll get the other one next week.” That was a long seven days I spent so much time worrying about my next appearance in the dentist’s chair.  I learned that it was better to tackle difficult customers first.

Difficult Customers

The point we are trying to make is that selling involves many decisions similar to the one at my dentist.  A salesperson, let’s say, has six prospect calls to make on a certain week.  Two of the prospects are tough and have resisted them and others for some time.  The other four are much easier and should go her way.  What should they do?  Take the sure bets and let the two others go for another day, or meet the problem head-on?  Put the two toughies right on the top of their calls.

By all means, they should hit the difficult customers first.  They may not sell them but even so, they will accomplish two important things: (1) Overcome their fear of formidable opposition. (2) Gather information and insight that will enable them to eventually get an order. And there’s also the advantage of interviewing in the morning when they are fresh and alert.  If a prospect is a hard nut to crack, the effort should be made when the salesperson is in top form.

But to get back to the idea of overcoming fear.  This is the hang-up with many salespeople.  They simply can’t gear themselves to call on a prospect that will give them a rough time.  They either lack confidence in themselves or they imagine the buyer to be tougher than they are.  Let’s discuss both these possibilities.

A good salesperson understands that only two answers are acceptable, yes or no!  “Maybes” will kill a salesperson’s time and energy.

Lack Of Confidence

A salesperson who lacks confidence cannot reach the top of their profession.  Without self-confidence, they’re just going through the motions of selling. Is lack of confidence an incurable ailment or is there an antidote?  Some people can’t be shaken loose from their problems and should not be salespeople at all.  These are a minority, however.  For most people, the solution is right in front of them, if they’ll only grab it.

Fear and the absence of confidence go hand in hand.  If a salesperson pushes beyond their fears their confidence will be naturally restored. Why don’t they go up to the difficult customer’s office and find out for themselves what sort of person they are?  However unpleasant the experience might be, the salesperson won’t be eaten alive.

Trial Run

If you have been putting off calling on a so-called impossible prospect, don’t delay any longer.  Phone them for an appointment and see them at your earliest convenience–or theirs.  They may be everything you heard about them and they also may turn you down.  But it’s still not a lost cause.  You’ve gained a great deal just by breaking the ice and meeting them.  You’ve had a chance to study them, and probe for their likes, dislikes, and weaknesses.  You’ve let them take a look at you and your company.  No longer are you a faceless entity representing your company.  For them, you now have a face, a name, and a personality.

Why The Difficult Customers?

The difficult customers usually turn out to be the best ones.  Research has shown that they are the most dependable, make quicker decisions, pay their bills on time, and are more loyal.  In short, the effort made in getting such business is more than worth it.

Certain customers demand more and take more of your time.  They’re more exacting, seek more information, and are more precise in their specifications.  You need to take painstaking notes on their requests and complaints.  Spend some time discussing their business problems with them. The tough buyers generally handed out the biggest orders.  These buyers know that they’re making a large investment and want to be sure they are getting their money’s worth.

Make Tough Ones Easier

The veneer of toughness can be removed if the salesperson comes in with a quality presentation, keeps their promises, is alert to the buyer’s problems, and pays serious attention to their objectives.  In time the buyer will come to feel that the seller is in their corner and some of their reserve will melt away.  This will take time.  Don’t count on it happening on the first or second call.  But if the salesperson stays with it, toughness, and even hostility, can be eliminated successfully.

Don’t Take Easy Ones For Granted

There’s a lesson here for salespeople.  After you’ve overcome the big hurdle, don’t quit the fight.  This may be where your hardest battle is.  You’ve received the first order from the tough buyer but that does not mean that they’re in your pocket forever.  You must keep shoring up your victory.  You must let them know that this is only the beginning and that you intend to make them permanently glad they singled you out for their business.

The moment the formerly tough customer becomes a snap to sell, you had better re-evaluate them.  Don’t take them for granted.  Pretend that they’re still somewhat difficult to penetrate and that you must keep working at it.

Get Others Behind You

Always remember that you have allies to help you nail the tough ones.  Many salespeople do not take advantage of them.  The allies are your company and the support people within it.  They have as great a stake as you do in getting new business.  They will be more than happy to cooperate with you in dealing with a cold, difficult prospect.  The support team includes your president, sales vice president, sales trainer, marketing director, customer service representatives, managers, and so forth.  You may not need all of them but pick out the ones you can use and ask them for assistance.  It may be one of the best moves you ever made.

Don’t fear the tough ones.  They may be the best lifelong customers you have.