Sales Quiz: Handling "Your Company Screwed Me in the Past."

SCENARIO: You walk into a face-to-face meeting with somebody whom you believe to be a new prospect. As you begin the conversation, the prospect cuts you off with:
"I did business with your company in the past and they were unprofessional."
Here are three possible responses. Pick the best one.
  • RESPONSE #1: "I'm so sorry to hear that you had an unpleasant experience with us. Can you tell me about it? When did this take place? etc." (Probe for details, then promise to address the problem with your management.)
  • RESPONSE #2: "I hate it when that kind of thing happens to me. However, suppose it was your company that had acted unprofessionally. You'd probably fire the person responsible. That's probably what we had to do, and now it's my job to make certain that you're treated right."
  • RESPONSE #3: "Unfortunately, you're not the first person who's complained. However, we've changed the way we do business so that problems like that won't happen in the future."

CLICK for the correct answer »

The correct answer is RESPONSE #2 (Suppose your company...). Here's why.
  • RESPONSE #1 (I'm sorry...) is opening a can of worms by surfacing lots of bad stuff that happened in the past that hopefully has no direct bearing on the current situation. And by suggesting that you'll take action, you're implying that the problem isn't yet fixed and could recur.
  • RESPONSE #3 (New business model) asks the prospect to trust that your company's new business model (of which he knows absolutely nothing) will prevent the problem that happened previously. Since companies rarely change that substantially, he'll automatically expect a repeat performance.
  • RESPONSE #2 (Suppose your company...) treats the problem as a classic "bad apple" and then puts the emphasis back into the here-and-now. He's saying: "I'm your sales rep and I'm going to take care of you." And that's actually what the prospect needs to believe if the deal is going to go through.
The above is based on some one-on-one coaching I got from the great Tom Hopkins, arguably the world's most famous sales trainer.