Have you ever closed a deal and felt worse afterwards? Is your client poisonous? Is dealing with him more than you can bear? How much discomfort does a salesperson have to endure? And when does it become detrimental?
Here is a tip from my experience: Don’t give up just yet. Show resilience. Take it as motivation. I’m going to get this client. I can do this. I’ll grit my teeth. I’ll find something positive in him.
You don't need this
But I’ll be the first to admit that on occasion, I just let it go. Sometimes I just stop looking for the green shoots in the desert. Why? For my own pride. For my mental well-being. Sometimes it just feels good to say, “Martin, you really don’t need this. You don’t have to do this to yourself.”
Example #1: Don't ignore the warning signals
There was this client from the fitness sector a few years ago. The initial meeting with him had gone well. First impression I had of him was a pleasant one. But that didn’t last long. Before starting the first sessions, he proposed a wager, “So, Mr. Limbeck, I wonder if after a single seminar day you’ll be able to tell me who of my employees has a positive attitude toward their job and who seems to clash all the time.”
I bet him a good bottle of wine that I could pull it off after the first coffee break. This seemed to be his way of testing my skill at the outset. In any case, I ended up winning the wager. What I also noticed immediately, however, was that the mood in the firm was abysmal. The organisation and combination of employees was already problematic. There was a division between permanent staff members and independent sales representatives. Another fault line ran between body-builders and non-body-builders. Whatever the divisions, they all had one feeling in common: They were being treated poorly. The boss ran his firm like a fiefdom. And that first wager should have served as a warning.
Then came the day when I wanted to discuss the next seminar program with him and his sales director. He said abruptly, “Mr. Limbeck, admit it, you must be laughing yourself silly about my employees. You must think they’re a pathetic lot. With them you’re earning your money in your sleep.”
I was shocked and didn’t know how to answer him. And I’m not normally at a loss for words. Then I shot back that I was in no position to judge my seminar guests so disparagingly. Even if I were, I certainly wouldn’t presume to do so.
To which he retorted, “C’mon, Mr. Limbeck, you’re not fooling me! You could do these seminars blindfolded. This is child’s play for you.”
It astounded me how dismissive this man was toward his employees. It was apparent from the start. To cut costs, the seminars took place in the cheapest hotels, sometimes in the basement or in cramped, airless rooms.
Even before I was able to complete all the scheduled sessions, the haggling began: Were the remaining sessions really that necessary? Did he have to stick to the contract? Were my seminars really worth the money? My God, if this man was already an ordeal for me, imagine being employed by him.
Naturally, my respect for him swiftly deteriorated, and inevitably our business relationship did not end on a pleasant note. In the end I had to concede that I was wrong about having won that bet. In fact, I had lost it royally—not to the boss, mind you, but to the employees. Every unpleasant thing they attributed to their boss was true. They weren’t sticklers but realists. And I was happy to have ended the business relationship.
Example #2: Follow your conscience
A friend and colleague of mine told me about a meeting with a financial services provider. The client had booked a seminar with him and wanted to bring a group of thirty employees along. The initial meeting was a little odd. The client arrived late and wanted to cover the usual customer acquisition topics, but something was off. There was something underlying his demeanor that was peculiar, something unspoken.
Finally it came to light: What this client wanted was borderline illegal and in any case unethical. The product he was looking to sell was highly dubious. All the promises he made about commissions and returns on investments turned out to have no legal basis. The methods with which he wanted to obtain customers were more akin to the ways of door-to-door soliciting than to proper customer acquisition.
My colleague followed his conscience and made a decision right in the middle of the first meeting. He stood up and walked out. Then, finding he had the entire day free, he used his time to take his daughter to the zoo. As luck would have it, the same client called me a few months later. I didn’t make the connection until I asked my colleague if he knew this man. I’m glad I inquired, because I had already held one training session with him. I broke off the relationship immediately. As for the money he owed me, it came as no shock when I was made to wait for it.
At times it is good for your soul and your ego when some deals don’t work out.
Example #3: Learn to say no
A few years ago I refused an assignment after the first meeting. The client wanted me to write a profile and an assessment for each of his employees. A boss who after a four-day training course trusts a sales trainer’s judgement of his employees more than his own is a weak leader. His request only served to expose his own lack of leadership. So I declined the assignment. It wasn’t my place to pass judgement on the customer’s employees anyway.
If now you’re thinking that it’s all too easy for Limbeck to say no to a client, then you’re only half right. Of course, I have to be able to afford to decline an offer. But there is virtue in foregoing an assignment, a virtue that you must first work hard to earn.
By Martin Limbeck is an international sales authority and sought-after keynote speaker, dubbed 'The Porsche of Sales' by the press. With his best-in-class German Sales Engineering approach, he helps sales professionals seal more deals. Martin has trained and inspired audiences in twenty-one countries for more than twenty years. The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) has been honoured as Top Speaker of the Year 2014, International Speaker of the Year 2012, and Trainer of the Year 2011 and 2008. He teaches at Reutlingen European School of Business, Steinbeis University Berlin, and St. Gallen University, and is the author of several bestsellers, including NO Is Short for Next Opportunity: How Top Sales Professionals Think and Why Nobody Wants You to Get to the Top...: ...and How I Made It Anyway.