Just because someone is having a bad day, it doesn’t give them the right to take it out on you!
When you walk in to meet with a client, you have absolutely no idea what kind of day they may be having. Heck, you might be having a terrible day yourself. Regardless, sometimes sales calls can get quite heated and escalate to the point where you could lose the business if you don’t handle yourself properly.
If you have been in sales for any length of time, you most certainly have encountered a client who is rude, belittling and/or who outright criticizes your company, product/service or even you personally. There are a multitude of reasons why a client may act this way and it could range from anything such as problems at home, difficulties with other employees, issues with a supplier, legal troubles or they just saw your primary competitor in the hours or days prior who planted seeds of doubt in their mind. The fact of the matter is, you won’t really know unless they feel comfortable enough sharing this with you. If they don’t, don’t ask. If you don’t have a very well established rapport, don’t meddle in their business. Do what you came to do, sell your product or service.
So what happens when your client gets out of hand and says or does something unacceptable?
In order to make sure you keep your cool and maintain professionalism, do the following:
1. Know Your Product/Service Inside Out
This should go without saying but before you go into any sales call, be sure you are an expert on whatever it is you are selling. If you can’t remember everything, be sure to contain supporting data or documentation in your detail binder and have it ready for demonstration. Be sure to know exactly where each article is located in your binder in order to avoid fumbling around, wasting unnecessary time and looking like an unprepared fool. Being prepared will enable you to keep calm and address your clients’ comments and concerns directly and precisely. If they catch you off guard and say or ask you something that you don’t know how to reply to or don’t know the answer to, simply acknowledge that you don’t know and will have to get back to them. If they get more irate by that answer, then reschedule the follow-up meeting immediately in order to diffuse the situation.
2. Do NOT React.
Think, THEN React. It’s only human nature to snap back and lash out at someone who acts out at us in a negative way but you must control this urge. It will get you nowhere besides kicked out the door and never welcomed back. Think about what it is exactly that your client said that you found offensive or untrue and ask them why they said what they did. Are they misinformed? Remembering details incorrectly? If they don’t provide you with a straight up answer, do not react or engage further. You can try to joke with them but I urge extreme caution in doing so, especially if you don’t have a well-established relationship with that particular client because you have no idea how they will react. If you are unsure, opt to redirect the conversation back to what you are selling.
3. Keep Focused on Your Product/Service
Although it might be difficult, try to keep focused on what you are selling. This will reduce the likelihood of any further provocation or outbursts from your client. It also removes any emotional stimuli from the interaction.
4. Find a Reason to Follow-up (Take a Break and Reschedule)
In the event that you are unable to keep the meeting focused on your product or service, you should end the meeting and reschedule for a later date. You can directly inform your client that based on how they are acting or feeling, that perhaps it would be best if you met another day the following week to discuss. An indirect approach would be to inform you client that you will be able to bring something of greater value to the next meeting (create an excuse to have a follow-up meeting) and would like to make arrangements to do so.
5. Smile and Try to Make a Joke
If you do this right off the get-go, it can go 1 of 2 ways: Either it will totally piss off your client or it will make them laugh and relieve their tension. Regardless, it’s a gamble. If you’ve already ended the meeting and rescheduled, that would probably be the safest time to make a joke but again, only do so if you are pretty darn sure how your client will react.
Whether you are in sales or any customer service type of role, it is only inevitable that you will encounter difficult customers and how you react (or don’t react) will determine whether or not you will keep those customers.
Growing up, I worked for my father who owned his own business. He had always told me , “The customer is always right.”.
When I was 16 working as a receptionist at an animal hospital, the head receptionist told me “Just because someone is having a bad day, don’t EVER let them take it out on you! There is no excuse. If someone is rude to you, you have my permission to kick them out. No questions asked.”
I never forgot that advice. It was empowering to be able to stand up for myself and not have to be treated like a doormat. Nobody should be treated that way.
That being said, you can use all of the tips in this article to try and diffuse a situation with a difficult client but that isn’t possible all of the time. In a previous post, I discussed “When to Fire a Client”.
So, happy sales my friends and just remember, you don’t ever need to take abuse from anyone.