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Client Suggestions: “Best of Times, Worst of Times”

Consider this paradox: whenever the client makes a suggestion within the consultative salesperson’s area of expertise, the dialog that follows usually takes one of two dramatically contrasting directions— either it’s productive, collegial, even fun, or it’s disruptive, potentially adversarial, and arduous. Which way it goes depends on whether or not the salesperson agrees or disagrees with the suggestion. This week’s blog focuses on turning the “worst of times” into “the best of times” for both salesperson and client.

 Little needs to be said about the best response to an appropriate client suggestion: accept it enthusiastically and gratefully. Fight hard against the several, all-too-natural temptations to dismiss the client’s contribution, as described in our June 19 blog, Why Is It So Hard To Say, “Yes”?

 Handling an inappropriate client suggestion is a “whole ‘nother ball game.” Now, (understandably) worried by the prospect of being pressured to do the wrong thing, the salesperson is likely to come down hard on the client— launching into a forceful, implicitly derogatory rebuttal, which will be painful for the client, even if we’re right (especially if we’re right.)

 Ironically, our best response is also “the path of least resistance.” Why immediately evaluate an inappropriate suggestion? Instead, why not ask the client to elaborate, and be listening for the underlying need(s) which prompted the suggestion?

  •  Don’t hesitate to ask the needs question straightforwardly. “What needs will your solution satisfy?” “What benefits will result from your idea?” “Describe how your suggestion will help achieve your objective.”

 For the consultative salesperson, working at the needs level is a lot more comfortable than working at the solutions level. First, you and the client are likely to agree about (the client’s) needs, even if you disagree about possible solutions. “You can deny solutions, but you can’t deny needs.

  •  Example: You may have to tell a hungry friend that it’s impractical to have dinner right now (a solution), but don’t say that he shouldn’t be hungry (a need)— he is hungry!

 Secondly, your agreement on the client’s need quite naturally leads into your proposed solution (which turns out to be very different than the client’s suggestion). Offered in the context of your alternative solution, your (sensitive) rebuttal of the client’s suggestion is now a lot more palatable and, even more importantly, no longer implies that the underlying need may not be fulfilled.

  •  Often, the client isn’t actually committed to his/her own suggestion; maybe it was just the first thing, or the only thing, she/he could think of. Again, what the client is absolutely committed to is that the underlying need be met— and that’s where you come in.

 So, in the face of an inappropriate client suggestion, don’t “just say no.” Instead, have a conversation to determine the underlying need, then work together to reach a mutually agreeable solution.

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