Confronting a Prospect’s Hostility

A prospect is sitting across from you, arms folded across his chest in an “I’m from Missouri” pose and he’s sneering contempt at you.  What do you do?

You confront him, which goes against the grain for most salespeople because they’re afraid of offending the prospect and the presentation dying on the vine then and there.  It’s the ostrich sticking his head into the sand.  You’re his equal, aren’t you?  You’re fearless, right?  I’d stop, look him dead in the eye and say, “You know, Tom, one out of every ten, twelve times I show this to someone, I’ll get the feeling he’s so leery that he’s waiting for me to pull my machine gun out of my case and mow him down.  I’m getting the vibe you’re really leery and I want to tell you—“

I’d place my hand over my heart.

“—I didn’t come here to throw a lot of garbage at you, that isn’t my way.”  I’d shut up and give him a cold stare.  The burden to explain his rudeness was his to struggle with.

Nine out of ten times (remember, you can’t win them all) he was embarrassed, apologized, and conjured up the best excuse he could think of.  “Please continue,” he’d say politely, his attentiveness and body language 180º opposite of what it had been prior to the confrontation.  I had even more control now—proof that you must never run away from a confrontation when your instincts scream it’s necessary.

Sometimes a prospect would go beyond icy body language and a sneer.  He’d spit out what he thought of all salespeople and it wasn’t loving poetry he was spouting: “You guys are all alike—all you want is my money and you really don’t give a damn about me or my business.  I can’t stand any of you!”

It’s useless to continue without confronting that cynical of an attitude.  I’d speak in a quiet tone of voice, with a touch of justifiable indignation thrown in for good measure: “You know, Tom, there are still professional salespeople in this world who care plenty about their clients and do well by them.  They make money for them, they protect them, they bring them great joy and happiness, they serve them with distinction and honor—I’ve always been real proud of what I do.”  Again, the burden was on the prospect to respond to the “whipping” he’d just been given.  The typical result was total control.

Occasionally a prospect handed me an opportunity to establish an incredibly high degree of control even before I met him.  I once had an appointment with a general contractor who was out on a jobsite.  His secretary called on the two-way radio and said, “Charlie, there’s a salesman here who says you have an appointment with him….”

From the radio came his sarcastic response: “He’s a damn liar—I don’t have an appointment with him, he has an appointment with me.”  Pause.  “Just tell him to cool his heels; I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”

When he arrived we sat down in his office.  I immediately confronted him: “You know, Charlie, before I begin I should tell you—if you really believe I’m a liar, we’re probably done before I begin showing you anything.”  I just stared at him.  Red as a ripe tomato he stumbled all over himself apologizing, said, “I was just funnin’; please don’t take offense, I really want to hear what you have to say; please go ahead, I’m all yours.”

He certainly was.

Can you see the Ju-Jitsu effect?  Taking the prospect’s negative energy and forcing him to deal with it.

If you’re going to sell fearlessly, you must never run away from a needed confrontation; it’s in both yours and the prospect’s best interest.