Thick skin is a must if you have skin in the multi-billion-dollar New York City real estate game. Just ask Fredrik Eklund.
The feisty Million Dollar Listing New York star and multi-millionaire realtor has had to learn to hold back his emotions when a client gets persnickety and demanding. He says he no longer takes it personally. He bites his tongue so he doesn't swallow his words.
"Whether you're in real estate or not, if you work with difficult clients, you have to constantly remind yourself that it's not you, without losing your cool," he tells Entrepreneur over the phone. "It's about them and their expectations, but it's your job to get them over to work with you on the terms you think are doable."
To do just that -- to overcome their objections, and get them to come over to your side and seal the deal -- Eklund offers the following four tips for dealing with tough customers:
1. Command the driver's seat and steer strong.
With millions and sometimes billions of dollars at stake, some of Eklund's clients get cold feet from time to time, particularly if they've never worked with him before. Such was the case with a recent client. This individual enlisted the former IT entrepreneur's services for a lead involving a $200 billion-dollar, 20-unit mansion development in New York's Westchester County. Cautious from the outset, the developer had designs on "test driving" Eklund. He wanted him to sell one of the Tarrytown mansions first as a test to see if Eklund could handle selling the rest.
"I had to remind myself that, yes, he was being difficult, but he doesn't know me," Eklund says. "He doesn't know what I'm capable of and that I know in my heart that I can get the job done."
He did get it done, but not without sewing up an agreement with the shrewd developer first that locked Eklund in to sell all of the remaining homes. "I had to stick to my guns. I had to let the resistance pass through me and slide off my back," he says. "If I got too emotional and backed down, the deal wouldn't go through. It wouldn't last."
2. Forget email and the phone. Meet face to face.
When you're dealing with a trying personality, get personal and meet in person right off the bat. "Don't mess around with email and the phone," Eklund says. "If someone is a truly difficult client, having lunch is always better because you talk about your families, you strike some common chords and build rapport and understanding, then it's much more likely they'll be reasonable."
Besides, too many social-emotional cues can be missed on the phone and in digital communications. If you really want to save the sale, don't waste your time on either medium.
3. Use your funny bone to break the tension, but not too much.
"I use humor to soften up tough clients," the high-kicking Swede says. "There's a fine line between making someone laugh and making fun of them, and you don't want to be too much of a jokester by turning a very difficult situation into all-out comedy."
You can, however, have a little fun at your own expense to lighten the mood and, ideally, to help disarm your client in a tense moment.
"Watch out" Eklund says, "because if you come on too strong and you take yourself too seriously, especially with a sensitive person, the deal is over before it even begins."
4. Know your breaking point and stick to it like glue.
Before he heads into any sales pitch or negotiation sessions with challenging customers, Eklund makes a habit of sizing up what he hopes to gain and what he's willing to lose first. "Basically, I know my floor and my ceiling," he says. "I think, 'What are the terms upon which I will truly walk away and what are the least acceptable terms where I will still take this?'"
Without setting firm and clear boundaries with yourself from the outset -- and with your client -- you could end up saying yes to terms you want nothing to do with. "Or you could get emotional and say 'No, no, no,' walk away, slam the door and regret it, kicking yourself and saying 'Whoa, what did I do? I shouldn't have turned that down.' You've got to stay calm and focused on your objectives or the whole thing can go downhill fast."To see Eklund in action, tackling some of his toughest clients, check out Million Dollar Listing New York, which airs on Bravo Thursdays at 9 p.m. E.T.