Dealing With Difficult Clients

5 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Clients

At some point in their career, every sales professional will have to deal with a difficult client. Of course, it’s perfectly normal for clients to demand the best from sellers. And negotiation is a part of selling. However, some clients take it too far.

We’re not talking about clients who have a negative experience. That’s understandable and expected. Instead, we are specifically addressing those clients who may be problematic. Either they approach a deal from an adversarial position, or they don’t know what they want. According to Inc.com, difficult customers are the minority, only about 5-10%. However, as most sellers can attest, they require much more time, energy, and resources.   

As good clients can be great friends, difficult clients can seem like a nightmare. In some cases, it can be best to walk away. But often, difficult clients can be rehabilitated by top sellers. Here, we will examine types of difficult customers as well as tips and strategies for dealing with them. Hopefully, these can help you turn difficult clients into productive partners.

Types of Difficult Clients

For sellers, buyer personas are an effective way to segment types of buyers. This helps define characteristics that aid the selling process. These include demographics, such as age, position, and education. It also includes geographic, behavioral, and psychographic information. 

In the same way, it is useful to identify the types of difficult buyers. This can influence a seller’s best approach when dealing with them. Of course, it is imperative sellers view all clients as individuals. However, according to the LinkedIn blog Difficult Clients Can Be…Difficult, difficult clients fall into four distinct types:

Amiable Buyers

Despite their seeming affability, amiable buyers can struggle with decision-making. As a result, they may run you ragged with multiple starts, stops, and wild goose chases. Often, they don’t even realize their asks are unreasonable. Therefore, it’s essential sellers start with guiding them through the process. This includes:

  • Offering specific recommendations
  • Reassuring the buyer’s preferences and choices
  • Avoiding high-pressure tactics

Analytical Buyers

Detail-oriented and driven by facts, analytical buyers require thorough information. They don’t just want a product that works, a solution to specific problem. They want the product of products—often one that doesn’t yet exist. For these buyers, the deal is in the details, so get specific. This includes:

  • Comparisons with competitors
  • Specific data and statistics
  • Tailored content to aid decision making
  • Preparation and patience and to address questions with research

Enthusiastic Buyers

Enthusiastic buyers can be fun to work with but a challenge to keep on task. Often, their enthusiasm can lead them astray. When possible, a seller’s enthusiasm should match. This builds quick rapport and speeds agreement. However, it’s also essential sellers bring structure to the process. This includes:

  • Organizing information
  • Building personal connections
  • Providing quick tips and simple solutions

Controlling Buyers

Controllers are often CEOs, VPs, Directors, or others in positions of power. They are typically confident, fact-driven individuals who know what they want and expect to get it. They are also usually bottom-line people. Therefore, they often want specific information to address their individual and departmental needs. This includes:

  • Demonstrating value
  • Emphasizing ease of use, support, and service 
  • Value propositions to justify expenditures
  • Cost/benefit analysis

While the level of difficulty can vary based on type, individual personalities can raise the bar. This includes gregarious clients who love to talk or inscrutable clients who keep their cards close.

Depending on their own strengths and weaknesses, sellers may find certain types more challenging. In this case, it can be beneficial to pass the client to a colleague. Some sellers are simply better suited to manage a difficult client’s personality, preferences, and needs.

Tips to Understand Difficult Buyers

Express empathy. Remember, there could be a myriad of reasons your client is difficult. Maybe they’re stressed from the pressures of their job, or they think being boisterous is an effective negotiation tactic. Regardless the source of their sour mood, make an effort to hear them out and understand their feelings. Even if you don’t know the cause, it can help turn difficult clients into valued partners.  </li>

While in-person meetings are great for establishing relationships, that’s not always an option. Whenever possible, use videoconferencing with difficult clients over phone or email communication. You can learn a lot from body language, and eye contact helps build trust. It’s easier to be pleasant when you can see each other’s faces. Also never forget the power of a genuine smile. There is less chance for anything to be misconstrued or misunderstood, which only exacerbates a potentially bad situation.

Clarify your value proposition and refer to it often. This is good practice with every client. But with difficult clients, take the extra time show how your solutions provide value. Demonstrate that you understand their concerns. And reinforce how your solutions bring value over the long term.

Look for options. It is important to demonstrate you are listening and working toward a solution.  By offering additional options, the client will feel like you are doing all you can to help them. While this is true for all clients, it is especially helpful when dealing with difficult clients. Often, difficult clients just want to feel special. Going the extra mile shows your dedication as a trusted partner.

If the client is not worth the time or attention they demand, be polite, firm, and willing to walk away. Of course, sales professionals need to believe in their ability to connect with others and close deals. However. not every prospect or client is a good fit. Difficult clients can drain your organization’s resources and bring down your sales team. Sometimes, walking away is your own best option.

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Strategies For Dealing With Difficult Clients

As discussed, difficult clients come in a variety of variety of types. It’s often not as simple as applying a singular tip. Forbes asked their Coaching Council for some strategies. In brief, they shared:  

Problem-Solving

Whenever possible, view a client’s difficulty as a problem to solve. This starts with understanding their perspective. Often, legitimate issues are obscured by frustration and impatience. Let them speak and use your active listening skills to get under the surface. Prepare open-ended questions that invite elaboration.

Acknowledge Tension

Don’t ignore the obvious. Instead, acknowledge tension. Without judgement, be upfront. For example, state, “I see you’re very frustrated.” This can create an opportunity for insightful dialogue. The goal is to initiate productive conversations.

Stay Issue Oriented

Beyond the surface of most difficult clients is a perfectly rational underlying issue. Often, however, the clients themselves don’t know it. More than merely listening, hear them. Present them with truths they didn’t realize. This can turn challenging clients into productive partners.

Set Boundaries

From the start, define the scope of interactions. This includes communication methods, politeness, and professionalism. It’s one thing to challenge agreements or terms. These are negotiation issues. So long as the client acts professionally, play the long game.

Remain Resilient

Never match their frustration with your own. At this point, you’ve both already lost. Instead of letting your own feelings in, keep it professional. Focus on problems. Of course, you can and should acknowledge their emotions. However, redirect their focus to positive outcomes.

Set Limits

Despite the potential of a great deal, there must be limits. Remember, with difficult clients, great deals are often only on paper. In actual practice, they’re more likely to bring you down than you are to lift them up.  

Reset Relationships

Sometimes, every professional relationship requires a reset. Maybe somebody somewhere dropped a ball nobody else knew was in play. Rather than assign blame, start over. Often, a willingness to preserve a relationship is all difficult clients need.

Tell the Truth

In every partnership, clear expectations and accountability are essential. These must allow for open communication. Guard against sugar-coating. Instead, address uncomfortable truths. Sometimes, respectful disagreement shows them you’re a trusted advisor.   

Create Collaborative Opportunities

Rather than confront adversarial situations, change the equation. Turn conflicts into collaborations. Address concerns, discuss all sides, and problem solve together.

Ensure Fit

All organizations need predetermined client models. This goes beyond buyer personas. Rather than demographics, do they align with your values? Compatibility is often more rewarding than revenue. From the outset, avoid clients who do align with your values.

Most clients are easy to work with.  In many cases, they are ultimately the reason many of us gravitated to sales in the first place. However, unfortunately, a small minority will prove themselves difficult. When this happens, implement the above tips and strategies. We hope this helps you arrive at the best outcome for you teams and clients.

Updated: 6/10/24

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