When this happens, the impact on even your longest and strongest professional relationships can be profound.
There's an elephant in the room that can feel uncomfortable to talk about -- but is impossible to ignore. And if you don't, advancing the client relationship will be difficult if not impossible.
How can you get past the elephant in the room to get back to selling? The following four-step process will help you rebuild trust with your customers and prospects.
Empathizing is more than hearing your customers’ words: It is recognizing the meaning and emotion behind their words. Some customers will force recognition of both the issue and their feelings. Some won’t talk about what’s really bothering them, keeping it hidden below the surface. Expressing empathy will help you to coax out and reduce negative emotions.
Furthermore, it shows your serious intent to repair the breach of customer trust -- and that you truly care about your customer’s feelings.
After you express empathy, it's time to delve into your prospect's reaction. You may feel reluctant to ask many (or any) questions about the misstep -- either because you are afraid to hear the response or assume you know the answer.
Open-ended questions and effective listening take courage and a strong stomach when trying to rebuild fractured trust. The payoff: The customer can vent and feels like they're heard.
Meanwhile, you show that you care and can develop a greater understanding of the client’s perspective. Probing, actively listening, and asking follow-up questions gives you a more complete picture. Only then can your plan begin to emerge for how to get past the elephant in the room.
If you’re like most salespeople, your first reaction to a customer's anger may be to explain and defend yourself. While accurate, your comments will not be persuasive and may sound defensive.
Instead, after empathizing and questioning, link your solutions or suggestions to what you learned from the customer’s responses to your questions. Your customer will become more engaged if your ideas directly address their issues.
To position ideas effectively, you must know -- not assume -- three things:
The customer’s concerns
What solutions will address those concerns
How those solutions will positively impact their concerns
4) Elicit feedback
It’s easy to mistake a customer's silence for agreement. At best, silence signals that the customer is thinking about the solution proposed.
At worst, the customer has disengaged. Only by checking and using open-ended questions can you tell whether the proposed ideas hit or missed the mark. Try asking, “How well does this address your concerns about our dependability as a partner?”
Asking for feedback engages the customer and allows you to plan next steps. A positive response can lead to a discussion of actions, responsibilities, and timeframe for implementation.
A negative or neutral response can signal that you need to restart the process, beginning with empathy or questioning, to see where the solution fell short.
Trust is a fragile thing: Hard to gain, easy to lose, and even harder to regain. Customers want a consistent commitment to them and their issues. Depending on the size of the elephant, you may have to use this process multiple times over multiple sales meetings. Your sustained effort will let you begin rebuilding trust and credibility.
It takes courage to face tough issues with customers. Sadly, wishing them away is never a winning strategy. Leveraging empathy, understanding, relevant ideas, and feedback will help you advance the difficult task of removing the elephant and regaining the trust of valued customers and prospects. Click here for more information on rebuilding trust with your customers.
Originally published Mar 16, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated August 31 2017