Condescending Clients: How To Handle Them

Condescending clients sitting on a throne

Do you ever wish you had a strategy on how to handle condescending clients?

Every once in a while when selling, you’re bound to come across condescending clients who don’t treat you with much respect.

When you run your own business you may decide to fire these types of clients. However, there are times when firing a client isn’t an option. There’s a myriad of reasons why you might just have to “suck it up” and “grin and bear it”.

Condescending Clients: Is the customer always right?

This came up recently in a coaching session with one of my VIP clients. She wanted some assistance in handling a client who was incredibly condescending.

This particular VIP works for a large national company. She’s not in a position where she can fire the client. Doing anything other than being professional might be detrimental to her job. When your livelihood depends on a paycheck, most people follow the age-old-rule of “the customer is always right”.

In this particular situation, she had a returning customer who reached out requesting a quote for new product. The customer had dealt with my client’s predecessor many years ago.

The initial meeting didn’t go as planned. Normally my client does a walkthrough of the customer’s business and makes recommendations on best practices and updated products. She quickly found that every time she made a suggestion, the customer would dismiss her and tell her she should let her technical team make the suggestions.

My VIP client happens to be one of the top sales producers in her company of over 300 salespeople. She’s smart and well versed in her product line. This particular project isn’t one where she’d need the assistance of her technical team.

My client also has a youthful appearance. Her customer happened to be an older gentleman and treated her as if she was too young or maybe too inexperienced to know what she’s talking about.

My VIP client shared during our coaching session that she was so taken aback by this customer’s condescending attitude that it rocked her confidence a bit. By the time she left the meeting, she was second-guessing herself and even postponed getting the quote back to the customer.

Condescending Clients: Doing Nothing Isn't An Option

She was struggling with how to handle the next interaction. And like many of us, when we find ourselves in a situation where we're not quite sure what to do, we do nothing. It’s basic human nature to protect ourselves and that usually shows up as fight, flight or freeze. In this case, she froze.

Doing nothing isn’t going to get her the business. The main reason we work together is to support her in closing more business. So this condescending client was the perfect scenario for us to work through together.

During the coaching session, I identified two possible ways she might handle the situation. It was up to her to pick which one she wanted us to strategize on.

Option 1: Get someone from her technical support team to accompany her to the next meeting and validate her recommendations to the customer.

When a customer doesn’t see you as a credible source, it’s unlikely you’ll earn the business. And sometimes it’s in your best interest to swallow your pride and use the resources available (even when you know you don't need the help).

Option 2: Prepare his quote, set up another meeting and walk into it with selective amnesia (this is something I learned years ago from my NLP teacher when I found myself in a similar situation with a condescending colleague). She’d need to be prepared to stand in her place of power, credibility, and confidence when she interacts with this particular client.

The way to use selective amnesia in this scenario is to act as if he never questioned her recommendations. She knows what she’s doing and she knows the proper equipment to recommend based on the customer’s needs. It’s imperative she walks into this next meeting demonstrating confidence in her abilities and recommendations.

Condescending Clients: Option Picked

You might not be surprised to learn my VIP picked option 2. We spent time strategizing how she would handle her next interaction, what she might say and do. Most important was for her to get the proposal done and delivered to the customer. There's zero chance she'll close this sale until this happens.

Many of us have been in a situation where someone does something that makes us question ourselves. The worst thing we can do is nothing. By not delivering a quote back to the customer, my VIP is further cementing his false impression that she’s not capable of handling his business.

She prepared the quote, met with the client and closed the deal. Then, she called me right after the meeting to share that she used the strategy we came up with. She was her usual confident and credible self throughout the meeting. As a result, the client treated her with much more respect.

Condescending Client Strategies

Lastly, to recap, there are 3 basic strategies for handling condescending clients.

  1. Fire the client. When you get to decide who you work with, keep this strategy in your back pocket. It's not often I'd recommend using it. However, there's power in knowing YOU get to decide.
  2. Bring in additional resources. Whether it's utilizing a fellow colleague, outside data, your network, your coach, etc, be willing to get support when you need it. Sometimes just talking through possible scenarios may be enough to set yourself up for success. I've actually accompanied a client to a customer meeting to support her in closing a deal. Never underestimate the value of the resources you have at your fingertips.
  3. Selective Amnesia. There are times to act as if the last interaction didn't happen. Approach your next interaction as if all is well and you stand in your place of power and confidence. Be sure to maintain a friendly demeanor with the client.

Wishing you continued success in all your client interactions.

Agree? Disagree? Have additional comments or thoughts on this article? Please share.



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