You quote your price to your potential client and they look astonished. “You’re kidding! You really expect us to pay that much?”
Or you’re halfway through a kitchen remodel when your client says, “How come you didn’t tell me that our dishwasher could have come with a chrome finish? You don’t know much about appliances, do you?”
Or you’re negotiating with a potential client to do finish work in a building when they say, “I’m surprised you people aren’t better organized. We want to get this started tomorrow and you tell me we have to wait at least a week before you show up? What kind of business are you running anyway?”
All three of these are examples of what I’ll call “Client Outrage”. It’s a statement that attempts to elicit an emotional response from you to get what they want. It often works, because it puts you in the position of questioning yourself and your company rather than dealing with the subject at hand.
You might have seen this in your personal life. If any of your family gatherings over the holidays including a discussion of politics, you might have heard someone say, “I can’t believe you think that!” You might have expressed a point of view held by half the people in our country, but that type of response has become a popular comeback to shut down disagreement. It’s a emotional response by them designed to trigger an emotional response from you and put you on the defensive. It takes the focus off the subject and onto you and your “unbelievable” beliefs.
Client outrage is a calculated response to a business proposition or action. It’s not always words; sometimes it’s the tone of voice, and it often borders on ridicule. The perpetrator knows from their own experience or the experience of others that the receiving party will likely cave in to the outrage and start giving concessions. “Oh no, I can’t have them mad at me. I obviously did something wrong, what can I do to make this right?”
How do you handle it? You’re already in a better position to deal with it because now you can recognize it when it happens. The next time you feel that emotional tug, telling you it’s time to play defense because you’ve done something wrong, take a deep breath and look at the facts.
Remember what we say in Profitable Sales: don’t let yourself get drawn into an argument by a client for any reason. If you keep an objections book as we recommend, you can review how you’ve responded in the past and how you should have responded. Over time, you’ll learn better ways to maintain your cool and respond appropriately.
Example 1: Potential client says, “You’re kidding! You really expect us to pay that much?”
You: “The price I quoted was for everything that you agreed that you want done. The price is a reflection of your design and the selections you’ve made. If it’s more than you want to invest, then we need to change the design and/or the material selections that will go into the job. That will certainly lower the overall investment.”
That response puts it back in their lap without getting into an argument. (As a side note, recognize that you might not have done the best job you could have of getting your client to set a budget for the job.)
Example 2: Client says, “How come you didn’t tell me that our dishwasher could have come with a chrome finish? You don’t know much about appliances, do you?”
You: “On the selection sheet that we provided, there is a section on dishwashers with several items for you to consider. One of those was color and finish, along with brand, price, model number, etc. As you’ll also recall, we provided the names of two different appliance stores for you to visit to be sure you had all your information together before we started the project. Did you fill in the selection sheet that I provided you? If you did, I can only assume that you looked at all the options that were presented by the salesperson at the appliance store. I know from dealing with those folks for many years that they are thorough.”
Sometimes it’s necessary to let them know you aren’t a football they can kick around when they’re unhappy. They need to take responsibility for their decisions rather than looking for someone to blame. There might be other approaches depending on the situation, but the bottom line is that when a client comes at you with an undeserved attitude, you need to take a stand.
Example 3: Client says, “I’m surprised you people aren’t better organized. We want to get this started tomorrow and you tell me we have to wait at least a week before you show up? What kind of business are you running anyway?”
I suppose there are good responses to this client that could salvage the sale, but I wouldn’t try. This relationship isn’t going to get better; on the contrary, it will likely get worse. It’s time to politely excuse yourself and walk away.
Client outrage is a game some clients play to see what they can get. For some it’s a habit; it’s how they interact with others especially when facing confrontation. Make sure you’re aware so you don’t fall into the emotional response those clients want. When you can recognize it, you can step out of the emotion and deal with the facts.
It’s tempting to give away the store so that others won’t think poorly of you or your business. Remember that you can’t control what others think: you can only make sure the facts are correct. And facts are best handled when your own emotions are in check.