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Scaring Customers Spitless — Does This Build Respect and Trust?

by David Brock on August 24th, 2009

Geoffrey James has generated a lot of interesting reactions with his article, To Sell More, Scare Customers Spitless.  Last week expressed my opinion about the content of the post in Provocative Selling, “The Shock and Awe” of Selling?  I’ve been interested in the reactions and comments to Mr. James post.

Most of the comments focus on the concept of “Scaring Customers Spitless,” and creating “Fear” with customers.  To some degree, I share many of the commenters opinions of the words that Mr. James has chosen to use.  Use of these types of words is alarming because they may betray underlying attitudes about the customer.

With respect to Mr. James, he may have been writing a Provocative headline (pun intended) to capture people’s attention and to provoke (sorry) discussion.  He has succeeded in both areas. 

But let’s focus for a moment on words he chose and those we choose to use to describe a customer or their situation.  Too often, when I read in various blogs (including Mr. James), or in talking to sales people about their customers, I hear people speaking in words that are negative and disrespectful of customers.  They (we — I’ve been guilty as well)  laugh at the customer, “They don’t get it!”  “They’re stupid!”  As I mentioned earlier, these betray our attitudes about the customer and impact our ability to be successful and develop deep relationships.

If we have to resort to fear and scare tactics, then clearly we don’t have much respect for the customers’ abilities to recognize opportunities, problems or challenges.  While we may catch their attention, such tactics or words create greater distance between our customers and us.  Sometimes, people can’t see past this distance.  If we use terrible descriptions about the customer not getting it, or being stupid, we are demonstrating our poor ability to communicate.

I frequently disagree or have a differing opinion from my clients and customers.  However, I never lose sight of the fact that everyone I deal with gotten to their role because they have demonstrated success in the past.  They are all smart and capable people.  The moment I lose sight of this, the moment I show any level of disrespect — particularly how I might speak of them to others or privately — then I am putting a barrier in establishing trust, confidence, and mutual respect.

People hold different opinions and have different experience bases.  But in dealing with customers we need to treat them and talk about them with the highest levels of respect.  Without this, we will never establish trust.

(By the way, I do wish the commenters would really read Mr. James post, I think too many could not get past his words to really understand Provocative Selling.  The key question is, why do we have to introduce Provocative Selling, isn’t it the sales professional’s job to help their customers discover new opportunities and improve their business?  Where’s the new news?–Perhaps it’s because too many aren’t doing this.)

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  1. David,

    Still relevant.

    You have written lot of good blogs over the years.

    Fear is often used when value proposition can’t win the deal.

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