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How to Work – Effectively – with Challenging Customers

The sales profession is a “people” profession: if you don’t like people, come not near!

In our contact with so many people we’re bound to come across some customers who are a challenge to get along with. Some salespeople would avoid transactions with challenging customers altogether, but they lose out on valuable business. There’s no reason for you to forfeit a potential sale; instead, use some understanding and thoughtful action to create an effective working relationship and close the sale.

The following are some tips for things to avoid – “don’ts” – when dealing with not-so-cooperative customers:

  • Don’t be too quick to label. The “difficult” customers are sometimes nothing more than “different” customers.  They may do things differently than you, but if you can find common ground, it may pay off with a loyal customer.
  • Don’t go toe-to-toe on everything. Choose battles carefully; if you can reasonably accommodate some demands, do. By giving in on some things, you’re in a better position to stand your ground on others.
  • Don’t give up. Some customers will just want to see that you’re dedicated. Call a second time (maybe even a third!) and earn respect for your positive attitude and persistence.
  • Don’t fall short on delivery. Some will be difficult simply because they don’t know what to expect from you. Show them your integrity and respect for them by following through and delivering on promises. The path to trust may be long, but it’s well worth traveling.
  • Don’t shut them out – or off. Listen – really listen – to the customer. If they feel as if you don’t hear them, they won’t want to buy from you. And in the case of complaining customers, sometimes they just need to vent; in these cases, empathy goes a long way.
  • Don’t argue or banter. If the customer says something that raises your ire, take time before you respond. Show them you’re thoughtful and not impulsive – a very good quality in a salesperson.
  • Don’t ignore cues from the customer. Use the customer’s nonverbal cues to know how to approach them. If they’re watching the clock, be respectful of their time. If agitated, be sensitive to their mood. If their eyes glaze over when you start your pitch, make it short and succinct – they’re probably overloaded with information. Being sensitive to the customer’s needs wins you a more open mind.
  • Don’t be afraid to question. If you feel as if you’ve stepped into an inquisition, you can respond to the customer’s questions with thoughtful questions of your own. This will help the customer to slow down and think and set the stage for a cooperative conversation.
  • Don’t be a control freak. Sometimes, the customer just doesn’t want to yield control. Be sure they feel that the decisions are theirs – that they’re not being pushed into a deal.
  • Don’t let the mercury rise. If you’re on a sales call and the discussion escalates, step back. After a pause, ask the customer if you can start the conversation again.  This tells the customer that you’re committed to hearing them. Restart the dialogue by saying that you’re here to help solve a problem or fill a void for their company; doing so reminds them that you’re the ally, not the enemy.
  • Don’t be too quick to shut the door on irrational demands. Some customers want what you simply cannot do, but you can try to work toward a compromise to avoid losing the sale.

Just a bit of patience and understanding can help reduce your distress when working with demanding or uncooperative customers — and secure sales that others might pass up!

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