How to Handle Difficult Sales Calls Like a Pro

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Sean Higgins
Sean Higgins


We’ve all been on a sales call that goes from bad to worse in under five seconds. Is your prospect moments away from throwing a mouse at the screen share? Did they say they were looking for apples but only talking about oranges? Are they speaking non-stop about the competitor they just had a demo with?


In these situations, it's tough to know how to get off the phone in one piece -- and still get a shot at the deal. Here are a few scenarios we’ve all dealt with and advice on how to handle each one. Learn from these tips, and save the sale next time a call goes off the rails.

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The call where they just don’t get it

Ever feel like you nailed a presentation only to find your prospect staring at the screen share … silent? They’re either just not that into your offer or their mouth stopped working mid-demo -- neither of which are promising scenarios.

How You Got Here

When faced with disinterest or the silent treatment, consider one of two things. First, have you hit the wrong points? And, second, do you have the wrong person on the phone?

The good news is you can detect either of these within the first two minutes of the call. Start by confirming the qualification criteria you or your BDR have harvested.

Ask questions like, “Do you oversee the selection process?” or “What do you hope to learn from this meeting?” or “If everything goes well with this presentation, is there anything stopping you from moving forward with my offer today?

Once you’ve confirmed these points, you should be confident you’re speaking with the right

person. If their answers signal you should meet with someone else, politely explain you want to respect their time and reschedule your demo.

What to Do About It

Draw from earlier conversations, and ask how your product/service measures up to your prospect’s expectations.

If they still aren’t talking, start asking direct questions like, “I’m sensing this presentation isn’t meeting your needs. Is that correct?” and “How is our product/service missing the mark?” Never drop the price out of panic. I’ve seen a lot of junior reps arrive at the pricing section of their demo, meet a little silence, and drop the price immediately.

If you’re going to adjust pricing, make sure there’s strategy driving your decision. It should never be a knee-jerk reaction.

The call where you’re obviously the wrong candidate

Even the best products don’t make sense for every buyer. If you sell hammers and the customer is really just looking for paperweights, they can probably get by with something else. Remember, when you realize a prospect isn’t the right fit, they probably sense it too.

How You Got Here

This scenario arises when the lead generation process is poorly defined. If your lead generation team doesn’t have a crisp definition of what constitutes a quality lead, they’ll provide many “O.K.” leads, but few that are highly qualified.

By enabling a strong feedback loop between Sales and Marketing, you can define good leads (I recommend using BANT or PUCCKA methodologies here).

And give your lead generation team the ability to fire bad prospects. Even if Jill prospect calls and wants to learn about your product, your lead team should have the ability to redirect her to a better resource if she’s obviously a bad fit.

What to Do About It

Don’t be afraid to send bad-fit prospects somewhere else. Rather than promise your product will work well for a prospect when you know it won’t, be honest and connect them with a company that will offer a better solution. Your prospect will be grateful for your honesty, and you might even receive a referral from them in the future.

The number of salespeople who avoid recklessly pushing their own product is small -- so your company will earn credibility and maybe some future business.

3. The call where someone takes over the conversation

How long has it been? Five minutes, maybe 10? Your prospect won’t stop talking about their current process and how competitor XYZ is doing this better. All at once, you’ve been steamrolled out of your own meeting.

How You Got Here

It’s important to send a clear agenda prior to every meeting. Outline how you’ll handle questions before you begin the presentation. And judge when to politely jump in and move things along to improve the cadence and productivity of the meeting.

If you fail to observe one or all of these meeting “golden rules,” you might experience someone else hijacking your time with their own agenda.

What to Do About It

Ask questions of specific members of the prospect’s team. This allows even timid attendees to ask questions and express their opinions. Additionally, don’t be afraid of silence. If you stop talking and avoid giving cues you’re listening, your chattier attendees will get the hint -- and, if they don’t, other members of their team likely will.

Be assertive, and step in when necessary. If you’re experiencing a runaway meeting, interject with, “Sorry to interrupt, but I want to respect your time and goals for this meeting, so let’s move on to our next topic.

With these tips in your arsenal, you’ll be able to move difficult calls forward and reduce the number of hoops your sales team jumps through every day. So, go ahead. Ring the cash register!

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