This is one of my most memorable customer service and sales victories. I was in my early 20’s and a commercial sales rep for a mechanical contractor in Northeast Ohio. If I had known what I was actually doing, I am convinced that it would have earned me the Houdini Lifetime Achievement Award.
The story centers around a business owner named Steve, one of my largest customers. There was a substantial amount of future business on the table when he attempted to place a service call for a broken air conditioner in one of his theaters. Our dispatcher informed Steve that he would need to bring his past-due account current before a service technician could be dispatched. In an attempt to leverage his position as one of our largest customers, he loudly expressed his displeasure about being held to such a policy.
Shortly thereafter, my manager advised me that I had lost one of my largest customers. With a substantial amount of future commission at risk, I knew that I had to do something to salvage the relationship.
When I sat down in front of Steve, I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. I wondered how I was going to persuade this extremely angry customer to bring his past-due account current so that we could continue doing business together. His voice got louder and louder as he questioned me about how we could deny him service after all the business he had given us over the years.
I endured his verbal attack on my company’s policy about past-due invoices for about 10 minutes. Then, I stood and in a loud voice asked: “Steve! What is it that you want me to do for you?”
He stopped, stood up and stared directly at me. I was petrified. Slowly, he walked around his desk and approached me. I was stunned when he put his arm around me and said, in a calmer tone: “I like you.” He asked what it would take to bring his account current. I let him know and he shouted: “Sandy! Cut this guy a check!”
That day I gained valuable insight about the dominant behavior style of business owners.
- They are motivated by challenges and control
- Don’t use the cheap sales techniques you brought with you
- When you approach them be prepared, be brief and be confident
- They are interested in tangible results, without wasting a lot of time
- Stress will instantly cause them to be demanding, boastful and sometimes sarcastic
Steve’s direct and confident approach told me that he wanted tangible results, and deep down I felt as though he wanted to know exactly what I could do for him. I realized that his verbal attack on my company’s policy wasn’t about me personally, but a reaction to him feeling like my company was taking advantage of him. When I approached him directly and with confidence I challenged him, and in that moment I gained equal business stature. I am happy to report that our relationship, and the relationship between our companies, continued to flourish.
Jeff Ruby is the founder of RedRock Leadership. During the course of his professional career, he has worked in organizations ranging in size from a sole practitioner to Fortune 500. Included in his experience are roles in starting and selling companies, sales and sales management, training and development and executive coaching.
RedRock Leadership is a sales training and leadership development company committed to growing companies by growing individuals through on-going training infused with the competencies of emotional intelligence.