Whether it's for a first-time sales call or an interaction with a long-term client, difficult conversations seem to occur with some frequency during the sales process.
According to a study by Forrester, 90 percent of sales conversations among executive buyers surveyed did not meet with their satisfaction; and these buyers said they were all too happy to voice that discontent at the actual meeting.
Certainly, all salespeople have to deal with these situations at some point, and how they respond is vital to maintaining their relationship with the buyer. If you're a salesperson yourself, respecting your customer’s objections, standing your ground and representing your organization with dignity -- all simultaneously -- is a tricky line to walk, but it’s a skill that effective professionals need to learn in order to emerge from confrontations with any hope of moving the relationship forward.
Here are seven ways to help you accomplish that.
1. Allow value to drive the conversation, not price.
Unless you’re dealing with a client with deep coffers and a penchant for spending wildly, difficult conversations are likely to arise when price is introduced into the equation. In typical situations, clients are operating with tight budgets and are under pressure from their fellow stakeholders to get as much as possible while spending as little as possible. Meanwhile, sales reps are hoping to extract the maximum amount of revenue out of each contract.
Price issues will always arise in a sales situation, but framing the relationship around value from the very beginning will likely change the way the prospect thinks about the cost. When you’re able to communicate the value your product provides on a deep level, your buyer will be in a better position to understand the cost structure and be able to justify it to his or her employer.
2. Practice empathy every step of the way.
B2B buyers have a lot on their plate: They’ve been given the responsibility to solve a problem that often affects many people in their organization. Their professional reputation may be on the line, and they have limited resources to achieve their goals. When they start to push back and raise objections, savvy sales professionals need to respond empathetically by attempting to truly understand the unique situation they’re faced with.
B2B buyers know that salespeople who attempt to understand their problems value the relationship as more than a quick influx of revenue, and they know that these salespeople are dedicated to helping even when the dialogue gets testy. Additionally, there are numerous examples that demonstrate that a culture of corporate empathy is a likely path to increased customer satisfaction and strong growth.
4. Don’t abandon honesty in hopes of satisfying the buyer's desires.
When a sales conversation begins to sour and it looks as if the prospect will walk away, many desperate sales reps see a single solution in front of them. They may try to exaggerate the benefits of their product, promise things that can’t be delivered at the current price level or invent a rapturous customer review in order to salvage any chance of a deal.
What they don’t realize is that as soon as they relinquish their commitment to honesty with their client, the relationship is already lost.
5. Defend your authority with data and sources.
Whether the goal is to test the salesperson’s knowledge, negotiate a lower price or simply prove to the other stakeholders in the buying process that they’ve done their due diligence, clients will often try to challenge a salesperson as an authority on the company or industry at hand. This leads many unprepared sales reps to feel personally attacked and to respond in kind; and once both parties become agitators, it’s hard for the relationship to remain intact.
Successful sales reps always enter these conversations with reputable data that affirms their position as an authority on the subject matter. This allows them to respond to challenges confidently and respectfully, and demonstrates to the buyer that they are dedicated to seeing the process through.
6. Demonstrate your commitment to learning.
Any time you are faced with a difficult conversation with a client, you have an opportunity to learn from the experience and grow. Acknowledge the validity of your prospect’s concerns, and analyze the interaction to explore what went wrong and how it can be avoided in the future.
7. Recognize when backing off is the sensible option.
Sometimes the obstacle at the center of the difficult conversation renders the sale inadvisable for one or both parties. For several different reasons, your product just may not make sense fiscally or operationally for the client, regardless of the research performed beforehand.
Talented salespeople are persistent, but trying to push a sale in a poor situation can lead to your company being permanently cut off or subject to negative word of mouth. Acknowledging that a deal is not in everyone’s best interest can salvage the relationship until that future time when the fit is better aligned for both parties.