Selling to Stressed-Out Customers

by Pete Krammer

I was consulting recently with a sales executive who sells components to large computer electronics manufacturers. Her customers, though nice people (this is Northern California, after all) are almost uniformly stressed out. They are high-strung, over-worked, and out of time. They operate on rapid design and purchasing cycles. Strategy is something the marketing department deals with. What they need, they need now, and they don’t have much time to think about it.

My client’s descriptions of her customer base validated my general business premise:  People in today’s corporations act completely naturally in unnatural environments.

How can you hope to get more than your fair share of time with a customer like this? By being a better observer of human behavior–their behavior–so that when you walk into their office, you know their needs and interests almost better than they do. This is not the time to play with a blank slate. (We deal with this in many other blog posts in The Sales Cafe.) Most importantly, learn how to cool your customer down so that they can listen to you.

How do you accomplish this? First, center yourself. You need to be less rushed than your customer, willing to compartmentalize your troubles (meaning forget about them), and operating with your eyes and ears wide open. Put away that BlackBerry please! Carefully observe your buyer’s behavior. People give off very distinct behavioral cues that illuminate their comfort zone. It’s harder to observe on a phone or by email, but the cues are still there. Under stress, these cues become even more distinct – for instance they suddenly attack, delay, avoid, or start dictating. Good salespeople understand this as a call for help. (Bad ones try to sell harder.)

Here are four tips:

  1. If your customer mentally or physically disappears, they most likely need good, solid information. Find out if you can what they’re missing and provide it. If they’re physically avoiding you, retrace your steps to just before things went awry. That should provide a clue to what they’re missing. Once this individual has the information they need, they are ready to talk.
  2. If your customer suddenly brings in new people, or creates a political scene, they most likely are uncomfortable with you or the process you’re using to sell to them. Confront this individual’s discomfort; ask them what they need and let them tell you. If you answer that need first, and keep your word, you’re customer will open doors for you.  If you go over this person’s head when they’re in this state, your opportunities will crumble, and not necessarily at a time of your choosing!
  3. If your customer has attacked you or your company – or anything else around them – you need to help them get it out of their system quickly. If it’s aimed at you, listen, validate their feelings, and help them see the other side of the coin without arguing with them. If their outburst is aimed elsewhere, use your empathy and help them focus on their interests. Once they’ve dumped their bucket, they’re ready to listen. And if they haven’t scared you off, you’ve earned their trust.
  4. If your customer starts dictating to you, guide them in a way that helps you understand what they’re missing. Usually they can’t see any measurable difference your offer provides. Once you’ve got a lock on the situation, focus on just their interests first, and make sure they understand how things will change with your solution. If they perceive that you can deliver results, you’ve made a friend for life.

For more information, please ping me about a course called The Versatile Salesperson, or make your way over to Amazon and pick up Versatile Selling: Adapting Your Style So Customers Say Yes.

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