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How to Cope With a Freaked-Out Customer

Scenario: you're on a sales call. The first words out of your customer's mouth are: "I'm gonna have trouble focusing because I just that there's going to be layoffs in our department." The way you respond will set the tone of your relationship with that customer, forever. Here are your options; pick one:
  • OPTION #1: Re-qualify the customer. Find out whether the customer will still have buying authority after the layoffs are complete. That way you won't be wasting your time.
  • OPTION #2: Proceed with the sales call. Because your product has value for the customer's firm, getting the customer involved in buying it is the best way to help.
  • OPTION #3: Stop and empathize. Imagine what it would feel like to be in the same situation, then let the customer use the meeting to vent his or her feelings.

Please vote, then click on the link below to get my comments.

The real answer to this question is "all three" -- but in the reverse order that I gave them. Here's the right approach:

  • STEP 1: Empathize. Sales reps are trained to be effective listeners, but listening isn't enough. You must adapt your behavior to the customer's moods and emotions. It begins by "knowing" what the customer might be feeling and then extending that knowledge into true empathy. This means that you must actually be able to feel what the customer is likely to be feeling.
  • STEP 2: Proceed. As the customer vents, you need to sit there and listen carefully and remain empathetic, even though you may be dealing with your own fears about whether this customer is a real opportunity or not. Eventually, the customer will tire of venting, and then you can proceed with the sales call.
  • STEP 3: Re-qualify. You are not a psychologist; even though you empathize, your job is to sell. As part of the follow-on conversation, find out whether or not the opportunity is still real and whether the contact is likely to remain employed. Adjust your future allocation of sales resources (i.e. your time) accordingly.
Doing all three steps, in that order, without skimping on the first two, can be challenging, especially if you're under the gun to make your numbers. However, regardless of whether the deal is still alive, that contact will remember that you put your own needs on hold, which helps build a long-term business relationships.