Next week, I am stoked to be joining my friends Jim Keenan (@keenan) and Anthony Iannarino (@iannarino) for a “jolt of Sales 411.” Our topic is going to be people who drive us nuts how to deal with a pain in the a$$ prospect/customer. Knowing these guys the way that I do, it’s going to be a GREAT conversation. One that you definitely won’t want to miss.
Since I typically obsess think about things way too deeply before doing these kinds of events, and I have been focused on the concept of stress this past year, I wanted to cover stress as ONE of the ways that a client can become an absolute terror.
In case you missed my last post on dealing with stress (and since it was months ago that I posted it!), let me give you a brief summary. I find that stress is generally caused by three things: a lack of success, a lack of significance, and/or a lack of control. When I talk about success, I am talking about the feeling that one gets about their sense of worth being defined by how often they win or make an impact. When I talk about significance, I am talking about the recognition that one can crave from others. And when I talk about control, I am talking about the (false) sense that one has to maintain authority over the people and events around them.
You can quickly see how these dynamics play out with customers.
On one hand, you’ve got people acting this way all the time – whether you are there or not. They live in a continual state of irritability and/or sensitivity, waiting for their sense of success/significance/control to be disrupted. You know these kinds of people. They can never be happy. They turn sales interactions into an opportunity to dump on you in the hope that by making your life miserable, their existence is somehow improved.
My advice: run from them. Get the deal finished and set them up for automated service. Do not let their toxicity infect your business. If necessary, fire them. Walk away and breathe some fresh air. There simply isn’t enough value to keep doing business with them.
You can’t fix crazy.
On the other hand, you’ve got people acting this way in seemingly random moments – as if your working relationship just entered the Twilight Zone. What was going great is suddenly going badly. They stop showing up at meetings. Emails stop getting answered. Or worse, they start generating emails with insane accusations. What is going on here?
My guess is that, somehow, they are suddenly at risk of losing success, significance, or control (or a combination of all three). Something just disrupted their flow and they are freaking out.
You have two options here.
First, make sure YOU are not the cause of their stress. Honestly, we’ve all been there. In our attempts to close the deal/grow the business/expand our influence we have overstepped our bounds. Hopefully, it was done with good intentions – which means that you can back off and apologize to get things back on track. But if it was done with bad intentions (i.e. to feed your own addiction to success/significance/control), you may not be able to fix the relationship. Buyers are that savvy. They can smell a self-serving ego in sales a mile away (Hello, Mexican timeshare salesperson).
Second, find out what the likely cause of your customer’s stress is. Are they suddenly at risk of failure, at risk of not being recognized for their work, or losing their way in the midst of a complex problem? If you can pinpoint the greatest cause of stress, you have the chance to do something about it. You can offer a solution that will address their need. Maybe it will require more work on your part. Often, I find that it’s more about assuring your client that you are there in the foxhole with them. That you will bring all of your resources to add to theirs.
The key is to match your solution to their emotional need.
If they only care about achieving success, they will be far more collaborative than if they only care about significance. Significance chasers will look at your attempts to collaborate as competition to their efforts. In these cases (and often with control freaks as well), you just need to offer your resources and let them select how/when they are used. If you are dealing with someone who is really just having a bad day, they will turn off their negative behavior relatively quickly. If you are dealing with someone who is genuinely addicted to success/significance/control, well… start creating your exit strategy. You may not need it – but don’t wait until you actually do.
I hope that helps. And if you are dealing with a stressed out customer now, feel free to ping me in the comments below. I’d love to help you navigate it successfully.
I mua. Onward and upward.
By Tim Ohai