Imagine, if you will, a meeting with a potential client. Everything is going well. You are well prepared, your questions are on point and then it happens without warning. The prospect throws a left hook at you in the form of an uncomfortable question and things get mighty weird.
It could be a question about something your company once went through that needed to be fixed, perhaps they ask you why your company has such high prices. Perhaps they are asking you why you are the third rep within 13 months from your company to have your position or it can even get way weirder as in (these are actual situations that have been shared with me)
A man asking a female sales rep how long before she starts having babies and they lose her as a rep?
Someone asking you about your political or religious beliefs.
The list goes on and on and are chock full of these moments when it just gets plain weird!
Here are a few tips to help you navigate these wacky waters.
Note: At the end of today's post I will be asking for you to share your best advice for handling difficult situations
First: During your meticulous pre call planning you should anticipate certain scenarios. For example: If I know that we've quoted before in the past with other reps, questions about the reps, pricing etc could come up. If my company has just gone through something, there's a good chance I might be asked about it. I need to prepare to deal with those questions.
Learn how to "buy" time:
I truly believe that the difference between a good response and a lame one can be as simple as having an extra second or two to think it out a bit. Here's how you can do it:
1) Have them repeat the question.
2) Put the onus of awkwardness on them. When someone asks you just a straight up rude question, try this. Look them them right in the eye, pause confidently and adjust your glasses using your middle finger. Seriously. Pause confidently and ask them "I'm happy to answer your questions and so I can better understand your perspective . . . what prompted that question? This response does several things. It buys you time. It allows you to regain control without being controlling and they may even answer their own question. At the very least, they are the ones defending a stupid question rather than you!
3) Ask for specifics, examples etc. Once again, it buys you time but at the same time you get to understand the context in which the question was asked. Don't ever underestimate the power of an extra few seconds when you are put on the spot!
4) If you are in a group setting and the question is going to cost you and the other participants valuable time, offer to discuss it offline.
Dealing with the question head on:
I believe it was in the sales classic How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling by Frank Bettger where I learned a really cool comeback when someone starts badmouthing my company.
Hear them out and then simply ask them "If you were a part of the leadership team and you kept hearing things like that, what would you do?" Chances are they will say something like "I'd make some changes" At that point you simply say "That's exactly what we did and I'd like to discuss those with you. Would it make sense to add that to today's agenda or should we schedule some additional time when its more convenient for you?"
Reframe the question in a manner that its not as toxic. For example, I know some rather young sales reps that have been called out about their age. I train them to reframe the question to something they can actually defend because quite frankly barring a time machine, what do you do? I have them take the age question and turn it into experience by going head on. "Unfortunately the age part I can't help but let me tell you about the level of experience I have and if by chance you are still uncomfortable I won't take up any more of your time"
Try thinking out loud if the question is really personal. I had someone ask me about both my religion and who I was voting for a year ago when I was visiting the south. The way I chose to handle it was by "thinking out loud" "Wow (name removed) I'm thinking that question goes against everything that makes up my comfort zone so consider this a friendly changing of the subject"
I want you to know that as much as the other party is looking at you deciding if they want to do business with you, you should be looking back asking the same question. If here I am hanging out with Mr. "Obnoxious Question Asker" then perhaps our crappy courtship is indicative of an even crappier marriage?
Let us not forget . . . Your title isn't "Punching Bag" and you do have the right to respectfully part as friends.
Sales Team Exercise: During your next sales team meeting, consider a game I use quite often in class called "On The Spot"
Preparation: Create a bunch of questions that represent worst case scenarios. Things like defending a higher price, turnover, changes your company has experienced, turnover.
Each participant is to go to the front of the conference room (standing up or have a "hot seat"). The person facilitating the meeting (or participants) hit them with 2-3 questions. Consider asking the team if anyone has a different way they would handle the situation as you get answers.
Want to kick it up a notch? Ask each participant to write one question on a 3 x 5 card that would represent a question that they would be flat out uncomfortable answering. Then ask them the question.
Consider raising the difficulty level by having each person answer only one question but provide 3 different answers.
"On the Spot" can also be used to have an objection handling workout, 30 second elevator speech review, voice mails etc
Final Note: If you really want to get "comfortable being uncomfortable" as Tom Peters used to say, you have to work those muscle groups and more importantly, learn from each uncomfortable situation you navigate!
Please share your best advice for handling a difficult situation. Let's see how many ideas we can come up with!
Sales Playbook Group News: We are having a discussion about the best ways to network http://tinyurl.com/ygqy55e