With difficult customers, do this anyway
  • sales
  • Blog post

With difficult customers, do this anyway

Think back to a time when you got off the phone with one of your difficult customers who finally turned you down for the sale, after protracted discussions, or when you left their office. You probably felt something like, “Well, at least I won’t have to deal with that ball of aggravation anymore.”

That’s the natural reaction. But not, according to sales guru Dave Anderson, the right one. He says you should follow up with this person, and do it quickly.

Huh? Why on earth would you want to go back for more punishment from a stubborn, or obnoxious, or belligerent buyer?

Because, Anderson says, with even the most difficult customers, you have a good chance of succeeding the second time around — or at least making progress.

They know they’re difficult

Here’s Anderson’s reasoning: People, even troublesome ones, usually have a degree of self-knowledge. Difficult customers didn’t just get that way when you showed up; they’ve been difficult for a while now, and they know it. Being difficult may even have become a strategy with them, to see how much game a salesperson — like you — has got.

So when you call them back shortly after they’ve given their “definitive” No to the deal you proposed, they’re favorably impressed. “The son of a gun has some guts,” they’re thinking.

What does Anderson mean by shortly? The time frame may vary depending on the market you’re in, and the reasons the customer gave for his No. But for Anderson, the very same day or the next morning isn’t too soon.

Isn’t that awfully pushy, though? Even if the buyer is impressed with your courage, isn’t she likely to say, “I just told you No. What part of No don’t you understand?”

Play your cards right with difficult customers

Well, she might. But sales isn’t a no-risk occupation, and according to Anderson, you probably won’t get a response like that if you play your follow-up cards right.

Anderson suggests using language like this in your post-rejection follow-up: “Ms. X, this is Rep Y at Company Z. I wanted to call and thank you for the time you spent with me yesterday. I know that many times after customers leave me, questions pop into their minds that they wish they’d asked while I was there. So I wanted to follow up and see whether any questions or concerns arose for you that I could address now?”

It’s pretty hard for even a difficult person to snap at you when you approach them like that. One good thing that may happen next is that they’ll give you the real reason they said No, something they may have concealed at the time. An even better thing that could happen is that the customer actually did have questions come up in the interval. Discussing these can resurrect the seemingly dead sale.

Even the worst isn’t so bad

The worst thing that can happen — other than the customer blowing you off — is that the person tells you, no, she hasn’t got any questions, and you did a good job, but her company just isn’t ready to buy right now.

Depending on the circumstances, you might want to accept this at face value. Or you could use it as leverage for one last run at the sale. You’d say something like, “I understand that finding the right time to buy is a challenge. But if there was one thing holding you back from moving forward, what might that be?”

If the difficult customer does indeed raise a concern or objection at this point, at least it gives you something to work with.

Summing up

Like any other piece of sales advice, this one about returning quickly to difficult customers isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.

There may be buyers who are SOOOO difficult, and whose No is SOOOO definitive, that you’re better off waiting six months to get back to them, or at least until you have some relevant new information to share.

But if you understand the psychology of the difficult customer — they want you to prove yourself — you’ll have a good basis for going ahead where a less experienced or less resolute salesperson might give up the fight.

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