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How To Cope With a Customer Layoff

SCENARIO: You're in a meeting with a new prospect. During your meeting, one of the prospect's co-workers interrupts with a rumor that there's going to be a massive layoff. Here are you choices:
  • #1: Ignore the rumor. This is not your problem, so proceed with the sales call as if nothing had changed. Layoffs generally take months to execute, anyway.
  • #2: Investigate the implications. This news impacts your ability to make this sale. Find out whether your customer contact will still have buying authority after the layoff.
  • #3: Alleviate the fear. Decide whether the customer would prefer to commiserate and complain, or would prefer to take some other action related to the rumor.

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The correct response is #3: Alleviate the Fear.

Your sales call ended the minute it was interrupted with the bad news. Announcement of layoffs, and other highly negative information always produce a profound emotional response from the organization and individuals that receive them.

If you proceed as if the news didn't matter, you'll look both insensitive and clueless. The prospect isn't going to want to discuss your offering, or the problems it solves, when 90 percent of his brain is trying to figure out what the rumor means to him, and what might happen as a result.

Similarly, if you try to find out what the rumor means to you, you'll look self-centered and selfish. What's an inconvenience to you may turn out to be a life-changing experience for the prospect. The prospect simply doesn't care about your sales effort, nor should he care. It's just not that relevant at this point.

The best way you can serve the customer at this point is to either be a pal and listen to the prospect vent... or simply leave so that the prospect can focus on doing whatever the prospect feels is necessary under a difficult and troubling situation.

By approaching the situation with empathy, you lay the groundwork for a long-term relationship. The prospect will appreciate that you put his needs first, rather than being wrapped up in what the news meant to you, personally.

Once the prospect has had the chance to deal emotionally with the impending layoffs, it's perfectly appropriate to revisit the opportunity and find out how your sales effort may need to change in order to address changing circumstances.