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Risky Business: Responding to clients’ difficult questions

We all expect our clients to ask us difficult questions – that’s just part of being a sales professional, after all. But sometimes those questions cross the line between difficult to answer and risky to answer, and the stakes get higher. Consider these examples:

  • “Where did that data come from?”
  • “What makes you different?”
  • “What can you give me that I’m not getting now?”
  • “Are you being honest with me?”
  • “Why would I do business with you if you won’t support our credit needs?”

Any of these coming from a client could be a sign of criticism or skepticism and the wrong response could spark an argument. Try using our 5-step process below to respond to the client with professionalism and diplomacy:

Acknowledge. Acknowledgment is a powerful tactic whenever you want to show the client you are there to work with them. All you have to do is tell the client that their question is a valid point:

“Of course you want to be confident that the data is credible…”

Paraphrase. A tough question will only cause problems if you move on without a clear understanding of what the client meant by it. You don’t have to reframe the question in this step; just play back your understanding and open the doors for clarification. Say something like:

“So you’re asking us to explain what ABC Corporation can provide that you are not already getting from your current suppliers…”

Or:

“What I am hearing is that you want to be certain that what I am recommending is not exaggerated…”

In doing this you are clarifying your understanding of the client’s question and letting them correct it if necessary.

Give your best response. Now it’s time for your answer. Try to keep it client-focused, straightforward and direct.  And if you don’t know the answer, you should never be afraid to say so – just let them know you will find out and get back to them.  It’s always better to ask a client to wait for a correct answer than risk giving them the wrong one

Check in. Once you have responded, you want to make sure the client is satisfied with your answer. A closed-ended question that does not leave room for guesswork will do the trick. Try something like:

“Does that provide you with the information you require? If not, please let me know – I’m more than happy to go back and clarify anything.”

Confirm with the client that there are no points of confusion or missed needs – if there are, now is the time to fix them.

Difficult questions can potentially derail a sales call.  But responding to them with this process can help diffuse the tension and give you the opportunity to take the high road.  Give it a try and leave a comment to let us know how it worked – you may be surprised.

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