We’ve all had them (or have them). Clients for who nothing is perfect. You’re too slow to respond, the pricing is too high, your solution is full of holes, they object to every piece of advice et al.
As sales people, they are the source of many avoided phone calls or rapid succession of expletives post call. We end up not enjoying working with them and, as a result, they don’t like working with us. Two things happen: a relationship of mutual detestation develops and then (or your client may jump to this point), they leave.
For many, the departure of the client is one of relief. ‘Thank heavens they’re gone’ is the exclamation from the relationship manager.
Some of you will also have witnessed the situation where a client, who was previously perceived as a terribly difficult client by one relationship manager, is transferred to a new relationship manager and they get on like a house on fire. A previous difficult client becomes tame and amiable.
It is easy for the sales person or relationship manager to blame their client. ‘They are just difficult and hard to please!’. This is easy because it externalises the problem however, more often than not, it is better to look at yourself in this situation. Yes, there are a handful of truly demanding clients out there – but it is rare to come across a client who doesn’t want a solution and relationship which is ‘just right’.
So, how do difficult clients get created?
Lack Of Understanding Of ‘Just Right’
As sales professionals, we spend an extraordinary amount of time in discovery to seek to understand the problems and opportunities our clients face and how we can create solutions to improve their situation. This is selling.
Do we go through the same discover process to understand what a clients’ expectation of our service proposition is? If a client tells us they want us to be ‘responsive’ – do we know what this looks like to them? Or do we make assumptions based on our view of ‘responsive’. Often a demanding client is a factor of us making assumptions as to how they wish to be served. Wrong assumptions.
You have to have an open conversation with your clients around what is expected and offered in a sales relationship. If your clients are judging you on the service you provide – you owe it to them and yourself to explore the criteria to which they are judging you. What does excellent service look like to them? Not just the terms, but what delivering it looks like.
The offer/expectation model is used extensively in employee/employer relationships and works brilliantly in sales too. Understanding what a client expects from you (and you from them) at the outset and where this diverges from what you’re offering allows you to discuss the gap before it presents itself as a problem. Before the client feels let down.
Be warned, you can also over-service your clients. We always worry about under-servicing them and because of this, in certain situations we can over service them. Service being ‘too hot’ can be just as damaging for some client relationships. You see this with call cycle – often relationship managers will call clients on a set cycle because their business says ’90 day call cycles’ – but have we asked the client if this is what they want?
Consistency is similarly important here. If you serviced a client well and then your service drops off – expect them to become demanding. You set (or reset) and expectation with them.
Setting the expectations at the outset, like any good relationship, allays many future issues, but is irregularly undertaken in sales.
Lack of Spine
My favourite topic. It is drummed in to sales people that ‘the customer is always right’. Well, they aren’t always right. If this was the case, they wouldn’t need you and would buy your services in an e-procurement model. If they always knew what they needed and were correct in their decision, advice based selling wouldn’t exist.
Too many sales people create demanding clients by allowing themselves to be steamrolled through fear of offending their clients.
A demanding client exists because they have learned, from you or prior sales people, that the way to get action is through being demanding. Sales people have coached them in to this by being order takers, not advisors.
As sales people, we can’t be afraid of saying no to our clients when what they’re doing isn’t in their best interest. Telling them that what they want, isn’t what they need. We have to understand our clients well enough that, when we have these difficult conversations, we can substantiate why what we are proposing is in their best interests.
Free giving is a good example. Some sales people, to avoid difficult situations, heavily shade pricing or waive conditions to smooth the path and pre-empt any objections. They then let themselves down by not explaining to their customer what they’ve done and, importantly, why they’ve done it. As a result, what is a highly negotiated deal for the sales person, is now normal deal for the client. This may help you win this deal – but will often create a future demanding client when you, or the next sales person, can’t match this later.
Too often, sales people act subservient to their clients. You are the expert in your field! However, if you don’t lead your client, they will lead (or leave) you. If you know your client well enough – you should have the fortitude to have the difficult conversations with them when it is in their interests to do so.
Goldilocks didn’t have someone to ask her how hot she liked her soup or how firm she liked her bed – so she had to try them all. But your clients have you. Don’t let your service and selling be a trial and error experiment for your clients. Understand them – especially how they like to be managed. Suddenly, demanding clients will be a thing of the past.