Buyers From Hell! What Your Worst Customers Can Teach You
In our training workshops we ask some of the salespeople participating to tell us about their most demanding customer, or prospect. It does not take much encouragement to get people talking and the stories they tell are compelling.
Perhaps they are compelling because as salespeople we can all relate to the story of the unreasonable or intransigent buyer, or it is the depth of raw emotion conveyed by the frustrated salesperson sharing their experiences.
‘Salespeople will express shock at the loss of a deal that should have been theirs.’
In telling of demanding buyers salespeople will express shock, disbelief and even disgust at a deal that should have been theirs. There are often cries of foul play, injustice or inequity.
What Makes ‘Buyers From Hell’?
What is it that characterises these ‘Buyers From Hell’? Well, here is a list of the most frequent complaints:
- Are simply looking for quotes to beat up an existing supplier
- Won’t return your calls
- Suddenly go quiet
- Ask you to put a joint bid together with a competitor
- Keep changing their mind and the specification
- Go right back to square one after months of discussions
- Projects stalled or scrapped at the last minute
- Projects awarded to in-house teams
- Expect you to do work speculatively
- Take your proposal / quote and get your competitors to price it
- Promise you lots of future work if you do the first instalment at cost price
- Hold back information that you need to write a proposal or decide to bid
- Won’t give any feedback on your proposal
- Won’t tell you when a decision is likely to be made, or how it will be made
- Tell you you have to be approved even though you’ve been a supplier for years
- Take the 10% discount you gave and keep coming back for more
- Change the goal posts once a project has begun
- Don’t start the project on time, even though your clock is ticking
- Don’t pay on time
- Change the goal-posts after the order is placed
- Are unreasonable and overly demanding as regards support, or service levels
- Are difficult to deal with, perhaps even unpleasant or rude
Demanding Customers Are Our Greatest Teachers
Letting the salesperson tell their stories and show their scars can be cathartic. It is an opportunity to vent frustration and analyze what exactly went wrong. But more deliberate action to change the buyer-seller dynamic is what we are after.
The ‘ah-ha’ moment for salespeople comes when they realize that the ‘buyer from hell’ experiences they have described could be prevented with a little more foresight and preparation on their part. They will agree that there were early warning signs that the salesperson overlooked and vow never to do it again.
‘Salespeople will agree that early warning signs were overlooked…’
There is also the realization that our most demanding buyers / customers can be our greatest teachers. They challenge us to grow, to improve, to be more creative. They also build our patience and determination! They prepare us for an increasingly competitive or ‘dog-eat-dog’ market space.
On another level there is also the ‘is it us, or is it them?’ element to the analysis of our interaction with difficult buyers. In other words does how we sell, or service play any part in creating difficult buyer moments. That may include a failure to manage expectations, gaps in communication, service failures, or things that we can inadvertently do to put the buyers’ nose ‘out of joint’.
In all our training and deal coaching sessions the objective is to look ahead and not back – to identify what can be done, rather than complain about what has happened.
Most important – a buyer could sit in on the session and not in any way feel intimated or threatened because the sales approach is the most sophisticated one that there is – to help the buyer to buy.
In all our engagements with buyers we apply the same even-handed fairness, constantly encouraging buyers to ‘treat salespeople as you would like to be treated’.