Question and Answer #47- Overcoming Negative Perception

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Overcoming negative perception

Q.  How do I overcome a customer’s negative perception of my company because of some earlier mishaps in the account?

A.  Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we didn’t have to deal with these kinds of situations?  But, of course, these problems are, in one sense, job security for us.  If there were no problems, and all the customers were easy, they wouldn’t need us.

First, let’s keep this problem in perspective.  Believe it or not, this is one of the most common problems that sales people present to me.  That says to me that you are not alone.  Almost every company messes up at some point.  So, while the customer may make you feel like your company is totally incompetent, chances are he has had similar problems with other suppliers.  So, unless it was a mistake of huge proportions, or a pattern of repetitive problems, it’s probably not as big an issue as the customer is leading you to believe.

Customers have been known to try to parlay a mishap on your part into concessions from you on price, delivery, or some other aspect of the transaction.  Over-inflating their reaction to your mishap can be an intentional strategy.  So, guard against the tendency to overreact.

Regardless, you now have to deal with it.  Let’s assume that the customer’s negative attitude is real, and not just a negotiating strategy.

Start by putting the issue on the table.  If you haven’t yet apologized for the “mishaps”, make sure that you do.  Be careful not to blame anyone, but do explain, with specific detail, what changes your company has made that are designed to prevent the mishaps from occurring again.  Give him a reason to believe that the “mishaps” were an exception, not the rule.

Having done that, you can not expect that the customer will automatically believe you and restore his confidence in you.  It is more reasonable to expect just the opposite.

Doing business with you, from the customer’s point of view, has become a greater risk for him.  What price does he pay if he trusts you again, and you again mess up?  Looking at it from his perspective, he risks more by doing business with you than he does with your competitor.  You must, therefore, methodically work at decreasing the customer’s perception of his risk.

I’d recommend that, once you’ve apologized, you don’t bring the topic up again.  You’ll just cause the customer to harden his attitude.

Take a longer term perspective.  Look for small decisions he can make.  Small volume items and things that are purchased only occasionally — the bits and pieces of his business that no one particularly wants.  Try to get the customer to take a chance with you on those items that are of low risk.  And then do it again.  One small risk, followed by another small risk, and another, will begin to incrementally change the customer’s perception.

Slowly, over time, you re-establish your reputation as a quality supplier and pick away at the customer’s negative perspective, not by what you say, but rather by what you do.  Wait to make an offer on a substantial piece of business until you feel that the customer trusts you and your company more than he does now.  At some point, if you follow this strategy, he will.

Be smart, understand the issue of risk, see it from the customer’s point of view, and dig in for the long run.  If it was easy, your company wouldn’t need you.

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.

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