In hindsight, I should have called the customer to find out what was important BEFORE I quoted it, and to see if we would even be a good fit. 

But I got lazy. I just responded to an email without making the phone call. My excuse? I was “busy”.

The day after I sent the proposal it was time for the follow up call; and the customer wanted NOTHING to do with me once we were on the phone.

Sound familiar? 

Here is a process that you might find useful when dealing with a difficult customer during a follow up call. 

  • Start the conversation with “Did I catch you at a bad time?” A very popular tactic that difficult customers like to use is to make it sound like they are in a HUGE hurry, and that you are a being a burden. It can drastically throw you off your game if you’re not ready for it. If they say that it ISN’T a bad time, then continue on. BUT, If the customer starts to be extremely short with you, or is being difficult with you, STOP the conversation and INQUISITIVELY say, “[First name], it sounds like you are rushing to get off the phone. Is now a bad time? Should I call you back later today or tomorrow”? This should allow you to take control again, because if it really WAS a bad time, they would have said so on the onset. 
  • Once the customer acknowledges that this is a good time to talk, PLEASE DON’T say, “I’m JUST following up on...”. NEVER use the word just. It is the WORST word to use. Saying “just” is another way of saying that you don’t really care about the outcome. It says that you are WEAK and will be easy to throw off. Instead, in a firm, CONFIDENT, and quickly paced manner, say “Great. The reason I am calling is...”
  • A very common response at this point is “I haven’t had a chance to look at the proposals yet”. (Which is a TOTAL lie 98% of the time. Your customer is two clicks away from looking at them if they wanted to, but they want you off the phone for now). Sometimes you have to play their game, so reply with “no problem, when will you have a chance to look them over?” Once they tell you, firmly say, “Sounds great, I will call you then."
  • Next, QUICKLY transition to: "Who all did you get numbers from”. This is EXTREMELY important to know for the next step and for the final follow up call (remember-  this should have been handled in the qualifying stage- oops!)
  • Typically, you should know what will “make or break” your proposal before you even quote the job (Broken record- I blew this). But, if you find yourself in this same situation, this is a good time to ask, “How are you going to make your purchasing decision?” Follow up each response with how you can fulfill the need. This might look like:
    • Customer- “The biggest thing is timeline. We need to have the job completed in 4 weeks.”
    • You- “That’s no problem, we can have that done in 4 weeks. What else is important?”
    • Customer- “We need to stay on budget."
    • You- “Totally understand. Assuming we stay on budget and we can get this done in 4 weeks, what else is important?”

You get the idea. The point of this step is to reveal the objections, handle them, and then assume the sale.

  • Confirm when you will follow up again as you discussed previously (and when you do follow up, remember to ASSUME the sale. More on this in another post).
  • Finish with, "What else are you working on?” to get yourself another project lead. 

This conversation probably would have been much different if I would have done a better job of qualifying the project and customer upfront. In fact, it may have made more sense to PASS on this job and then attempt to set an appointment to find out how we can serve them so well that we aren't just another number.


How do you deal with difficult customers?

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Brad Telker
Director of Commercial Sales at cfm Distributors, Inc.

Brad joined the cfm team in 2006, and now as the Director of Commercial Sales, he focuses on business development, as well as helping contractors and engineers find creative and unique solutions to any size project. When he’s not at work, Brad enjoys photography, running and spending time with his family.