There once was a new sales rep who was so fearful of a buyer yelling at her that she passed out during a sales presentation. It’s true – one minute she was giving her presentation and the next, the whole world went black. While she probably grabbed the audience’s attention, she would have been better off knowing how to diffuse the buyer’s anger. In his book, Secrets of Power Persuasion for Salespeople (Career Press, 2003), Roger Dawson offers these techniques for dealing with angry prospects.
Know the target. When people are hostile or rude to you, it’s rare you are the actual target. More often it’s a person or situation they ran into before you. When this is the case, the best way to diffuse anger is to get people to talk about it. Use phrases, such as: It sounds like you’ve had a bad experience with this type of product in the past. Why don’t you tell me about it? People who wear their anger on their sleeve, says Dawson, “often are doing so because they want to air their feelings but don’t know how.”
Use the magic words. When you are the target of someone’s anger, offer a sincere, direct apology and watch that anger melt away. Dawson was once golfing with a group of friends, one of whom was having a bad day. The man’s shots got increasingly worse until, after a particularly lousy shot, he turned to another member of the foursome and loudly accused him of talking during his back swing. The target, who hadn’t talked at all, simply said with great sincerity, “David, my friend, I apologize to you, from the bottom of my heart.” Dawson says he “watched with amazement as the anger drained out of the other man like water draining out of a bathtub.”
Restate the objection. You get to the end of your presentation and the prospect says with disgust: Your price is ridiculous. To get more information and a less confrontational explanation of the prospect’s concerns about your price, try replying with a question, such as: You feel our price is too high? This will open a dialogue that will give you the opportunity to encourage prospects to explain their concerns.
Give in to a demand. It’s amazing, says Dawson, how little situations can get completely blown out of proportion because someone decides not to let the buyer get away with something. Dawson recalls the story of a woman who walked into an Indiana supermarket and held a checkout clerk at gunpoint. Her demand? She wanted the local newspaper to print a statement on its front page. Typically, in these kinds of cases the newspaper will refuse to be blackmailed, the SWAT team will be called in and the situation will escalate. In this case, however, the paper said no problem. It printed the rambling statement, the woman turned over her gun and went to jail, and the situation ended. So when faced with angry buyers, consider just going with their demands.
Find out what the person wants. Say representatives from a key customer’s business walk into your presentation ranting about how they’ve had it with your company and are sick of broken promises and on and on. You may be tempted to reply: What have we done? What are you upset about? Don’t, says Dawson. Instead, get them to tell you what they want by saying: I’m sorry you’re upset. What is it you want me to do? Their answers will give you the problem and the solution and you can take action from there.