How to sell: Dealing with difficult clients

Welcome to my new series on how to sell.

I have been in the sales world for over 20 years. I have represented both high end and low end products including Land Rovers, business services (like HVAC, industrial electrical applications and medical collection services), and insurance policies. I have even waited tables. (which was such a terrible job I now get mad at friends who tip less than 20%.)

I hold national records for both personal and team production in the insurance world. Insurance is a different sell because it is an intangible: meaning the sale is based solely on your ability to gain and maintain a persons trust. Insurance is a promise to perform “if something bad happens.” It is also a highly ethical job because it is the agents fiduciary responsibility to look out for the client and not ream them for every dime they have. I take “selling ethically” very seriously because without your word, you are just smoke and mirrors and anyone can be that.

In order to be a successful sales person the first thing you have to understand is that the job has very little to do with you. You are only an instrument through which your clients find and achieve their goal. As a sales person it is your responsibility to provide your clients the best service, the best care and the best knowledge possible in order to earn their business. If you do not do that, someone else will.

Remember your job can be done by a kiosk.

Now to the subject at hand: Difficult clients.

No matter where you are, no matter what you do and no matter how you earn a living, we all have to deal with difficult people. Difficult clients are a little different than a difficult co-worker because the client not only pays your bills, but their influence can hinder other peoples views of you or your business. If your store has a notorious difficult client that no one likes to deal with, guess what? That client leaves your store and tells all his friends that he got rotten service at your place. While each potential client will make up their own mind about where to shop, their friends advice will influence which door they choose to walk in.

Have you ever heard a nightmare story from your friend about how they got rotten treatment from a store? Would you want to go to that store? No.

I say give me the most difficult, loudest, and most demanding clients. Give them all to me because if I can make that one person happy, I have earned a client and not just a single sale. People deal with people they like and if you go the extra mile for someone and show you care, they will continue to do business with you.

People have an internal “volume” of their lives. Some people live quiet and internal lives, writing in their journals and sharing their personal moments with only a select few really close friends. Other people live loudly, extraverted and tell everyone about everything. These bombastic clients who announce their arrival in your store, demand your time and highest efforts will scare your timid sales people. These clients want to be treated like they are important. The secret is that they ARE important. They are a walking billboard of your store.

In being able to call a known difficult person YOUR client is a statement of mature professionalism and shows the rest of the world that you care about your business.

I am not saying bend over backward for these people, but show them you care about having their business. Grandiose personalities who possess flair and personal drive are attracted to other grandiose personalities who possess flair and personal drive. They all feed off of each other.

Timid sales people have skinny children. Never be afraid to ask someone to spend their money in your store. Never be ashamed to quote a price that is higher than you would pay for something. If you are selling something that you believe is overpriced, you need to learn more about your product. KNOW YOUR PRODUCT IS THE BEST AND OTHERS WILL SEE IT IN YOU. In order to gain the respect of your clients, you have to show them that your service or products are worth their investment. If they do not see value in what you do or provide, they will not spend their money in your shop. Would you pay someone to redo your bathroom if they did not know how to lay tile or run pluming? No, you would call someone else. Be the best.

While working for Land Rover, I had a woman (we will call Mrs. Smith)come in to look at a vehicle. A coworker, (Let’s call her “M”) told me that she had dealt with Mrs. Smith before but I should not expect to make the sale because Mrs. Smith was ‘all business,’ and ‘demanding to the point of being impossible.’ I met with Mrs. Smith and we chatted for a while about what she needed the vehicle for. She told me that she had 5 sons and two dogs and they all needed to be able to fit in the car at the same time. I asked about the ages of her sons and she said that they were all adults and only one of them were single. I asked about the dogs and we ended up talking about them for half an hour. Her sons were grown and had families of their own, and her dogs were now her children. I asked her about the times when all of her family got together at the same time and after thinking about it, she said about a half a dozen times a year. We spoke briefly about the holidays and how her beach front home acted as the central hub of activity. I asked if they went out for their holiday meals, had them catered or cooked and she said that it was their family tradition to cook. I asked about her husband and in an intimate moment she said he had passed away a few years earlier. I said how sorry I was, and shared that my grandparents had recently passed on. We shared a little moment, and to lighten the mood I got us back on track about the Range Rover she was asking about.

Through our conversation I had gathered that it was rare to have all five sons together at the same time. When they were together, all of them had their own vehicles. So she really was looking for a nice vehicle for herself, the two dogs and a the possibility of three or four passengers. She liked the GPS with the voice activated features and the hands free telephone. Mrs. Smith was used to having a house full of men who she had to be tough as nails to raise and control. Mrs. Smith liked the “verbal sparing” of going back and forth until everyone in the room knew she was in charge and in control. Land Rover vehicle prices are not haggled over, the price is the price. For some people, that takes the fun out of buying a car because they expect to wrestle around with numbers. Mrs. Smith wanted a little challenge so I gave her something to be demanding over by telling her I could not throw in an extra set of rubber floor mats for the dogs. In actuality, I could have just given them to her, but she needed to be difficult in order to feel better about the transaction of buying this $100,000 vehicle.

To some people, the idea of spending that kind of money on a car is beyond their comprehension. To date I hold a record for selling the most individual units costing in excess of $100,000 in New England on a rolling three month quarter. Lots of people buy pricey vehicles. Being a set price, the profit is already cut into what needs to go to where. Rover gets their cash, the dealership gets theirs, the detailer gets paid, the transportation folks, the mechanics who service the vehicle free of charge for the next four years get paid and then, lastly, the sales guide gets a little cash. Every penny is already spent and it is always the same amount to each of them. Everyone earns their keep and gets paid for it. I never got rich selling them, but I didn’t starve either.

Mrs. Smith was difficult in that she wanted someone to treat her like the head of the family that she was. It took a little time and effort, but I earned a client for life with her. I sold that first Range Rover to her in 2003. I have sold her three Range Rovers, updating her to the latest and greatest vehicle. I also sold Rovers to four of her sons and their families. As I write this, it is 2010, seven years later and I no longer work for Land Rover. Mrs. Smith called me last week because she is interested in a new limited edition vehicle. She has known that I have not worked for Land Rover for some years now, but she wanted to deal with me again. I spoke with her, got up to date on how her family is doing, and of course her dogs, and I called a friend who still works for the company to help take care of her purchase.

Difficult clients will take care of you if you learn how to take care of them.

The real truth is there are no difficult clients, only lazy sales people. You are paid as a sales professional to cater to the needs of others. Your job has little to do with you and everything to do with your clients and products.

Learn to love your difficult clients because they are the ones who will help you become better at your profession.


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