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Selling to Difficult Personalities
Selling Power Editors

You'll always have favorite customers, ones you look forward to interacting with. And then there are the others.

The reality is that no one gets to avoid having to deal with difficult people. But as Vincent F. Peters, author of 360 Degree Selling: How to Sell Biotechnology Products, points out, by understanding a difficult customer's personality, salespeople can effectively manage their own behavior and responses to minimize conflict, overcome frustration, and move the sales process forward.

According to Peters, there are four primary personality categories into which almost all difficult people fall:

1. Friendlies

Characteristics: Personable, social, enjoy the company of other people, don't like to say no.

Common frustration: May say yes to your face but then fail to follow through later.

How to deal with them: Ramp up your socialization and relationship-building efforts. Accept all social invites to connect; maintain a relaxed, amiable attitude; and engage these customers on their terms. Look for social-media opportunities to interact with them to build and strengthen your relationships.

2. Control Artists

Characteristics: Forceful personality, feel the need to be in charge, in control of every situation, can become aggressive when challenged (or even when not).

Common frustrations: Tend to dominate conversation, argumentative, won't brook disagreement.

How to deal with them: Let them direct and control the conversation, even if you're the one who's supposed to be making the presentation. Give up the need to be in charge. Still, know your stuff cold, and expect to be put on the spot to support any assertions you make. Don't socialize, don't argue; be diplomatic and respectful, state your case, and then go back to being deferential.

3. Intellectuals

Characteristics: Information junkies, deliberate in decision making, thoughtful.

Common frustration: Tend to take their time about making any changes, particularly those requiring weighty decisions.

How to deal with them: Get ready for lots of questions and a healthy back-and-forth. But don't expect the end of the sales call to be the end of the conversation. Be patient, prepare to provide additional background information (but only quality information), and then stress that you want them to have enough time and data to make an informed decision.

4. Eccentrics

Characteristics: Risk takers, open to new ideas, outgoing, enthusiastic.

Common frustration: While often open to trying new things, they're also easily persuaded to drop a product when something newer comes along.

How to deal with them: Strap yourself in and open your mind to the possibility of a new experience. Be sincere but ramp up your enthusiasm a notch. Listen to their theories and perspectives so that you can understand the reasoning behind how they think. These are the folks with whom you can try out your novel or untested presentation approaches. Stress the aspects of your product that are new, innovative, and potentially push the envelope.

Try to identify which personality you're dealing with early on. It used to be that you could use nonverbal language and physical surroundings to make some educated guesses about how best to approach the conversation. For example, an intellectual type might have a lot of books or journals around or framed diplomas on the wall. These days, a phone call is often the standard option. Unfortunately, the gain in convenience is accompanied by a decrease in quality.

To get around this challenge, invite a customer to engage in a video conference (this can be done easily using a product such as iMeet). As long as you have a Web camera, a video conference is just as convenient as a phone call – and the added advantage is that it allows you to gauge a customer's reactions and demeanor based on facial expressions, body language, and even physical environment.

Dealing with difficult people will always be an element of selling, but knowing how to evaluate behaviors and personality types can help you prepare for potential problems, anticipate frustrations, and take positive steps to further the sales process.

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