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How to Sell Tough Customers!

May 13, 2016

Posted by

Dave Anderson

President of Dave Andersons Learn To Lead, an international sales and leadership training and consulting company, Dave has led some of the most successful retail automotive dealerships in the countryt Read more


Even the toughest customers need the services that you offer.  And they will buy from someone.  That someone can be you if you work to develop a handful of skills and professionally apply them at the appropriate time.

First of all, don’t be too quick to judge a customer as “tough” early in the sales process.  Prospects often put up a tough front as a defense mechanism.  This perception can change quickly once they discern that you are a professional.  To accomplish this, be prepared to:

•  Recognize the top three concerns of tough customers.  Will you waste my time?  Do you know what you’re doing?  Can I trust you?

•  Respond, don’t react, to a customer by increasing the space between a provocation and your response.  Don’t take sarcastic remarks from a customer personally.  In most cases, the customer despises the buying process -- not you!

•  Give tough customers air.

Pushy or demanding people are only likely to try to understand you after they feel understood.  Don’t get defensive, and you have a better chance of staying in control of the situation.  Make sure they feel understood before you try to make them fully understand.  Here’s a sample scenario:

Customer:  The price you’re asking is ridiculous!  Are you guys on drugs?

Ineffective reply:  (Normally spoken quickly and defensively.)  I don’t set the prices.

This is what the product is bringing.  But we’ll make you a good deal on it.

Effective reply:  (Spoken slowly and sincerely.)  Mr. Prospect, when you say the price is too high, could you tell me ... too high as compared to what?

Customer:  It’s too high compared to what XY Company is selling theirs for.

Ineffective reply:  Well, I guess they know what their product is worth.  Their lower price is probably an indication that you’re not going to get very good service after the sale.

Effective reply:  I’d be very surprised if someone could beat our price if their product and level of service is identical to ours.  Could we take a minute to compare the features to be sure we’re comparing apples to apples?  Did they by chance give you their price and in writing?

The effective reply slows the customer down and raises doubts about the deal they believe they’d be getting elsewhere.  It also builds value in your product, service, and professionalism since you haven’t resorted to disparaging your competitor or their product.

Sales Caveats

•  Never say “no.”  It makes prospects more defensive.  Instead, always tell a customer what you can do.  If they can’t accept it, then it’s their choice, but they'll be more open to other options.

•  Let your customer take a bow.  Acknowledge the “know-it-all’s” expertise and “great” negotiating skills.  The best way to knock a chip off someone’s shoulder is to let them take a bow!

•  Carefully choose your battles.  Don’t get bogged down with a tough customer over trivial issues just to build your ego and prove you’re right.  Keep the main thing the main thing and make the sale!

•  Don’t Quit.  Tough customers who leave without buying are impressed when you follow up.  Hard-to-please customers know they are unpleasant to deal with and will respond favorably to a salesperson who calls them back in an earnest attempt to win their business.  This follow-up shows that you weren't intimidated by them.

•  Be prepared to walk away.  If you look at every deal as “life or death,” you’ll be dead a lot!  Sometimes the surest way to make the sale is being mentally prepared to walk away from it.

Final Tip

Here’s a last resort script you can use that makes your point, while continuing to build up the customer.  Change these words to your liking:  “Mr. Customer, I’d like to accommodate your demands, truly I would.  But from a business standpoint there’s a difference between giving a great deal and selling a product at a price that doesn’t produce the profit to pay our bills or people.  Frankly, we couldn’t stay in business to service our customers if we sold our products for what you’re offering.  So, if we can agree that, while maybe this isn’t everything you wanted, it is still more than fair.  Let’s shake and make the deal.”

Then zip your lips and extend your hand.