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Trying Times

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

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This story appears in the July 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. 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.

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