It’s Friday afternoon, the end of an incredibly busy week, I’m taking a few moments to reflect on some of the most interesting discussions of the week. With several clients, and some of my good friends, including Keith Bossey, John Cousineau, Jim Keenan, and Jonathan Farrington, I’ve found myself in discussions about handling serious, often critical, and sometimes impolite customer feedback or objections.
One of the greatest challenges sales professionals face is engaging our customers. We try but can’t catch their attention or gain their interest in our offerings. Then suddenly some feedback comes in, often some variant of “your company and products suck!” It may come in the form of feedback to customer service, feedback in a market survey, or an objection a customer raises as we meet with that customer.
Our knee jerk reaction is usually to be defensive, sometimes to lash out in return. Sometimes our reaction causes us to lose sight of the tremendous opportunity the customer has given us. The fact they cared enough to let us know that our products, company, or even us as individuals is tremendous! Think of all those customers that never provided feedback, never raised and objection, and never gave us the opportunity to understand or respond to their point of view.
Objections and feedback (positive or negative) should be treasured. They are indicators that we have engaged the customer and they care enough to want to engage us. Engagement is what we are striving for in reaching out to customers.
How we respond to objections and negative feedback (we seem not to have problems responding to positive) is critical to our success in continuing to engage the customer. Too often, we have a knee jerk reaction and respond in a manner that cuts off further discussion and engagement.
In dealing with objections or negative feedback, it is critical that we first acknowledge the legitimacy of someone having a differing opinion or point of view. We should put ourselves in their shoes and try to see it from their perspective.
Next we need to explore the issue and their view–not defend our position, but to understand where they are coming from and what is causing them to respond in the way they are. Until we do this, it is impossible to respond and address their issues. Until we really probe and understand, we are in danger of addressing symptoms and not the real problem.
As sales professionals, once we take the time to understand the issues, we can be pretty good about responding to them, correcting misunderstandings of our capabilities, apologizing for service lapses of whatever. There are however, some cases where we aren’t very good.
There are legitimate differences in points of view. Regardless of how compelling our argument is, people will have legitimate differences. If these differences cannot be reconciled, or if the differences stand in the way of our doing business, then we need to part ways—doing anything else is a waste of our time, our customer’s and will only make things worse.
Now here’s the toughest one, sometimes, we have to may have to change our position or point of view. It’s tough to admit we have made a mistake, or that we are wrong (I thought I was once–then realized I was mistaken).
It’s particularly tough for many sales people, we want to be right — sometimes we want to be right so badly that we prove the customer wrong. This cuts off all communication and engagement. Being right may assuage our egos, but may not win business or enable us to enrich our relationships with customers.
It’s curious, when customers care enough to tell, us that we, our products, or our companies suck, they are telling us they really want to find an opportunity to understand and resolve our differences and move forward. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t wast the time giving us feedback or raising the objection.
Feedback, positive or negative, and objections are things to be treasured. They indicate our customers care enough to be engaged, and they want to work with us. Seize the opportunity.