2 Must-​Do Tactics When Working With Tough Prospects

BY Jessica Helinski
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Sales involve engaging with a wide variety of people, and not every client is going to be a breeze to deal with. Likely, sellers will encounter quite a few tough clients during their career. It can be a delicate balance between keeping them satisfied while keeping your own cool–and making sure you aren’t enabling troubling behavior. 

As J.C. McKissen writes for LinkedIn, “Despite all the tech now involved in selling, sales is still a people business – and people can be difficult. That said, a difficult customer does not have to become an ex-​customer.” He shares various ways that reps can carefully navigate these difficult situations and come out with a satisfied customer and an even stronger relationship.

Two tips to help deal with tough clients

When engaging with a customer who is exhibiting challenging behavior, the most important bit of advice is to maintain your own composure. This can be extremely difficult, especially if the other person has lost control. But letting your own emotions take over will get nothing accomplished. While keeping your cool doesn’t mean the client is right or their behavior is justified, it does keep you from saying something regretful. 

Whatever you are trying to accomplish won’t happen when you burn bridges, no matter how righteous or justified you think your anger is,” McKissen explains. “So, above all, before you deploy any other strategy, take a breath, calm down, and do yourself a favor: delete that angry email before you send it.”

For advice on how to get a handle on your own emotions during challenging situations, take a look at SalesFuel’s advice, including how to understand your reactions when you’re upset and using coping tactics to manage frustration

Identify the type and respond accordingly

Have you ever compared your clients to ice cream? Well, as McKissen points out, they actually are like ice cream in that they come in a variety of flavors. Not every client has the same attitude and behavior. Successful sellers understand this and adjust their own responses to each client. Thankfully, many clients generally fit a particular “type” in regard to their unique challenges. 

One example of a common type of tough client is the “The Controller.” This customer has a tough time letting go of control, and they aren’t willing to take advice or be told “no.” The Controller may even have the final say in decisions, which puts even more pressure on sellers. When working with this type of client, frustration can bubble up. Instead of giving in to your emotions or their demands, lean heavily into fact-​based reasoning and data to make your point. Show them value and examples of ROI. Also, work their brains and get them talking. Use smart questioning and active listening to collaborate on a solution that will satisfy them without compromising your business needs. 

The “Amiable Buyer” is another example of a tough client. While this buyer is generally pleasant, they can be difficult to work with simply because they are too afraid to make waves. They may have trouble making decisions or giving feedback, which can hinder customer service or delay business. 

These types require a gentle but firm strategy to keep the relationship moving smoothly. “What the Amiable Buyer needs is a trusted expert who can shepherd them through the process,” McKissen writes. “Sellers can transfer some of their confidence and strength to the Amiable Buyer by giving them recommendations…." Be confident yet kind while offering suggestions; your empathy will pay off. 

Tough clients aren’t “bad” clients

While these examples illustrate challenging customer types, it doesn’t mean that they are a bad choice to engage in business with. Not every personality is going to be easygoing all of the time; clients are people, too, each with their own attitudes, behaviors, and quirks. As long as your engagements with them are primarily positive, there’s no reason to walk away from the relationship. Keep these suggestions in mind for those times when you find yourself struggling against frustration so you both make it to the other side.

Photo by Thirdman