This is one of those topics that I shouldn’t really have to write about but over and over again I see well meaning entrepreneurs turning away business by insulting their clients!
Imagine that it’s late evening and you rush to the grocery store. Frazzled, tired and more than a little overwhelmed you stand in the baby aisle staring at the options. A clerk comes by and asks, “Can I help you with anything?”
You smile gratefully and reply, “YES! I have a 2 week old baby at home. Which size diaper should I get her? We just ran out!”
Now imagine the clerk raises an eyebrow and says with a sneer, “Are you sure you want diapers? I mean, you and a baby, that’s not a good idea.”
You may be flabbergasted and think this would never happen but variations of this conversation come up all the time. Here’s what it sounds like:
“You sure you want the free range whole chicken? I mean, why don’t you just buy the regular instead?”
“You’re ready to buy the Toyota Yaris? I think you should really get the Corolla.”
“Oh, you don’t want to put that tile in a bathroom. No, no, you shouldn’t do that.”
The latest example is actually the reason I’m sharing this article today. Because over the weekend I went to pick out some grout for the new bathroom tiles I’d installed in September. After asking for a recommendation between 2 brands and describing the tile, I got a rude sneer and the advice to immediately tear out my new tile and buy something different (and more expensive).
I did ignore this clerk and pick up my grout without his help but what stuck with me for days afterwards was the judgment that I, a woman, didn’t know what I was doing and must be an idiot. Now, I’m typically not a sensitive person when it comes to this but having experienced this attitude many times when buying materials, tools and getting quotes for my home in the past 5 years I’ve come to recognize the intent behind this “advice.”
Here’s what that clerk failed to recognize:
Insulting your clients is the easiest way to alienate them
In the first example it seems absurd, right? Who would tell a parent to retroactively not have children? Well, if you’ve ever worked with a client and judged their past choices then you’ve made the same mistake.
A colleague forwarded me an article some months about about the health challenges one faces after removing the gallbladder, a medical procedure I had 7 years ago. The entire article was a judgmental blast against anyone stupid enough to have their gallbladder surgically removed.
While these kind of articles, discussions and arguments may make us feel better (the “you should never do this” stance), it’s often received as a snide judgment on someone’s past choices.
I’ve heard graphic designers, when trying to make the sale, insult a prospect’s logo, website and branding – even when the prospect was entirely happy with their current look.
No one wants to hear any version of ’you’re an idiot and clearly don’t know what you’re doing. Here, let me help.” It puts the other person on the defensive, creates hurt feelings and breaks the trust you’ve already established.
How do you point out options without insulting the client?
As with most things, tone and intent go a long way. Imagine these alternative conversations to the examples above:
“We do have the free range whole chicken in the back and it will take me about 5 minutes to prep for you. Or, if you are interested our regular chicken is on sale this week and has been a popular item.”
“You’re ready to buy the Toyota Yaris? Great! Before we go inside and start going over all the details I wanted to mention that I do have some new Corollas as well and the price is comparable plus you get more leg room. Are you interested in taking a look?”
“Typically I recommend porcelain tiles for bathrooms because it lasts longer and is less slippery. If you’ve already installed the laminate then this brand is best for grouting because of the extra moisture in bathrooms.”
See how each of those options clearly gives an option (cheaper chicken, more leg room, better tile) but ultimately leaves the decision up to the client? This kind of approach allows you to maintain yours role as the expert in the situation, without becoming a bully.
Many times a client comes into a sales conversation having already researched and made a decision and trying to talk him or her out of that decision will not be received well. Especially if you have a know-it-all attitude. We don’t tend to trust sales people anymore, especially ones whose income is tied to our purchase.
So instead of making grand proclamations about what someone you may have just met needs, take time to get to know their choices, ideas and goals.
Be sure when you’re talking to prospects and clients you’re not insulting them in your efforts to help.
In my situation, if the clerk had asked me 2 questions he would have quickly understood that I’m tiling bathrooms for a soon to be rental property. My primary concerns are durability and price, not high quality and style. Oh, and the grout I picked out looks fantastic!