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10 tips for dealing with difficult customers

September 24, 2012 by Ken Dooley
Posted in: communication, In this week's e-newsletter - Sales & Marketing, Industry Spotlight - Sales & Marketing, Latest News & Views - Sales & Marketing

The more you understand about dealing with difficult customers, the faster you’ll sell to them. Here are 10 tips that will help you avoid unnecessary difficulties:

  1. Don’t label a customer as “difficult” too quickly. Prospects often put up a tough front early on as a defense mechanism. It can change quickly once they know you’re a professional who cares about them and their needs.
  2. Understand the three top concerns of difficult customers: Will you waste my time? Do you know what you’re doing? Can I trust you?
  3. When a customer says something provocative, don’t take it personally or respond too quickly. By increasing the space between a customer’s comment and your reply, you increase the value of your answer by giving it the appearance of being more thoughtful.
  4. Slow the customer down, by replying with a question rather than an answer. This may reveal the core issue and soften the customer’s next reply. Sell with questions, not just answers. Slow down their assaults with thoughtful questions and a low, slow tone and demeanor.
  5. Listen with the intent to understand and not one-up the customer. Until you let customers express themselves, they will not be open to what you have to say. Customers don’t buy when they understand; they buy when they feel understood.
  6. Choose your battles carefully. Don’t get bogged down in trivial battles with a tough customer. You can win the battle and still lose the war if the customer decides not to buy.
  7. Difficult customers want to be followed up with if they don’t buy from you the first time around. Tough customers know they’re hard to deal with and may respond favorably to a salesperson who calls them back if they missed it the first time around. If you don’t sell a difficult customer the first time out, follow up quickly — and with purpose.
  8. Try to avoid skipping any steps in the selling process when dealing with difficult customers. Just as with normal customers, the more time you spend on steps leading to the close, the less time you have to spend closing the deal.
  9. It’s usually not a good idea to overwhelm a difficult prospect with too much product knowledge. Canned presentations may be the kiss of death with difficult customers. Talk about the features you learned that are most important to the customer. Customize your presentation to fit the prospect rather than trying to fit the prospect into your presentation.
  10. Test the waters. Trial closes are essential to setting up the final close, especially with a difficult prospect. Timing is important. Try to make certain you’ve created enough value in your product or service before asking for a trial close. .

Adapted from the book How to Deal with Difficult Customers by Dave Anderson, President of Dave Anderson’s Learn to Lead, a sales and marketing training company.

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