Marketing

Trying Times

Every once in a while, you'll meet difficult customers. Question is, are you prepared to take them on?
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the July 2003 issue of . Subscribe »

Have you ever run into a tough customer? Of course you have; they come with the territory. But what many salespeople don't realize is that tough customers tend to fall into four main categories-and the sooner you learn to recognize these types, the more likely you'll be able to deal with them successfully.

  • The Know-It-All: What do know-it-alls value most? Someone who makes them feel important by asking questions that acknowledge their experience and qualifications. You might say "You've been in this business a long time. Tell me how the business has changed over the years. What's the greatest challenge you face now?" That way, you can get lots of valuable information while making them feel appreciated. You'll also be able to offer an intelligent solution that makes sense to them.
  • The Silent Type: These shy and reserved customers feel uncomfortable opening up to strangers. Use some common ground to break the ice and help them let their guard down. Get more information out of them by using phrases such as "Can you expand on that?" or "What do you mean?" Ask these customers some open-ended questions, then be quiet and let them do the talking. You could also say "If we had to present this to others in your company, what would you suggest we do?" When they're actively involved, they'll open up more.
  • The Indecisive Prospect: When customers are wishy-washy, take a more direct approach. Do some research so you can say "I've been thinking about your concerns and doing some homework. What if we went this way as our next step?" Many times, these customers need someone to hold their hand during the process and make the decision for them. You can also share customer testimonials with them. When they see that other people have put their trust in you, they will, too.
  • The Greedy Customer: These are people-sometimes longtime customers-who try to take advantage of your business relationship by demanding that you cut your prices or add more services without increasing your rates. Try saying something like "We will, as always, give you a fair price and the service we've promised. But we have a business just like you do, and, for us to remain in business, we have to stay within this price range. I'm sure you can understand." Don't be afraid to stand your ground. Remind them how your product or service adds value to their company. If they still don't see the value you offer, perhaps it's time to end the relationship.

What's the best advice for dealing with tough customers? Put yourself in their shoes. Be sure to listen to their concerns without interruption. Don't argue with them or get angry or frustrated. Get as much information as you can to understand each customer as an individual, and then adjust your selling techniques to each situation accordingly. It's the only way to turn tough customers into your best customers.

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