How to Turn Sour Grapes into Sweet Sales

By Heather Baldwin
Wouldn’t it be great if you could sell only to nice people? That way, even if you got rejected, you’d feel good about it. Unfortunately, most salespeople don’t have that luxury – nor should they want it. “A huge part of the reward that comes from sales is the ability to surmount every day challenges – and there is no bigger challenge than difficult people,” says Marion Luna Brem, author of Women Make the Best Salesmen: Isn’t It Time You Started Using Their Secrets? (Currency, 2004). Brem offers these ideas as a starting point for dealing with difficult people.
Remember customers in tough situations need to feel supported. Sure, customers need solutions. If they come to you with a problem, they certainly want it taken care of. But often that’s not enough. They also need to feel supported. Brem, who owns several auto dealerships, recalls a customer who came in complaining about a rattling sound coming from under the hood of her brand new car. The service adviser had the car fixed and delivered on time at no cost to the customer. A job well done, right? Not to the customer, who later turned in a survey expressing negative feelings. What happened? The service advisor did not offer the customer a show of support, says Brem. “He would have been better served to listen for more than the sound coming from under the hood,” she explains. “The customer was crying out for her service adviser to offer her assurances that the expensive car she had just purchased was still a good choice, that he cared about her problem and that he would be there for her whenever she needed help. He took care of the car but not the customer.”
Express empathy to customers in tough (at least for them) situations. Chances are the customer just described had her day disrupted by her car problem, but her pain was never acknowledged by the service adviser. “She needed to hear him say he felt bad for her,” says Brem. “An expression of empathy might have caused her to vent a bit, but at least she would have felt better afterward.” As it was, she vented on the survey.
Keep and use your sense of humor. A sense of humor is vital when dealing with tough customers and difficult situations. It can help to cushion sales rejection, which is important because you don’t want your reps carrying unnecessary baggage from one sales transaction to another. One morning, Brem suffered three no-shows in a row. Frustrated, she invited a colleague, who knew of her frustration, to lunch. Once at the restaurant, she announced: Today I’m buying. Given all the money I’ve made this morning, it’s only fair. A breath of fresh air, a nice lunch and a few laughs later, she was back at work eager to greet her three o’clock appointment – who showed up on time and bought a car from her.
Don’t take a difficult customer personally. The minute you personalize or internalize a customer’s wrath or rudeness, you give away your power to think clearly, your power to improve the situation and your power to make the sale, says Brem. When she first applied for a job as a car salesman, the manager interviewing her said he had never considered a woman for the position. Brem realized his comment was more a statement about him than her. By not taking his remarks to heart, Brem was able to open up his way of thinking and show him the benefits of hiring her, which he did. “By remaining present and in command of myself instead of mentally running off and becoming defensive, my presentation stayed intact,” she explains. “If I had attacked him for making such a statement, I would have been proving his point – that a woman was too emotional for the job – and I would have lost the job.”