In the second part of this series we will examine the lost art of mastering our relationships with difficult customers. We will learn how to develop productive and mutually beneficial relationships with the toughest and most elusive personality types.
View all articles by Larry Mullins
In Part One of this series we learned the secrets of identifying difficult customers. Now we will examine the lost art of mastering our relationships with them, learning how to develop productive and mutually beneficial relationships with the toughest and most elusive personality types.
First, recall the four personality types introduced in the May/June issue of Furniture World. If you missed this article, it is available in the marketing article archives section on the furninfo.com website.
Let’s examine them, beginning with the most difficult customer of all, Harry Haight, the Hostile/Aggressive personality. The first step in understanding Harry, is to find out what motivates him. Harry Haight looks at the sales process as a duel between him and the salesperson. He is closed-minded and aggressive. His essential needs are for esteem and independence. He is an unwilling and suspicious listener. What techniques can we use to establish a productive relationship with this personality?
THE REAL HARRY HAIGHT. THE MAN NO ONE KNOWS
In reality, Harry is not so tough as he would like you to think. He is a deeply troubled man, sincere when he says he sees the world as a dangerous place. He believes that people are as hostile toward him as he is to them, but he “knows” that most people are afraid to show their fangs. Harry encounters few people as assertive and fearless as he appears to be, so he presumes that most of the world is easy to bully, if he shows them who is boss.
Harry Haight is like a man on a log roll; he keeps running faster and faster, the log keeps spinning faster and faster, and he has to keep going or he’ll fall into the water. He has no choice, because the water is full of sharks just waiting for him to slip. He cannot admit, even to himself, the dread and emptiness he feels deep within. One thing is for sure, Harry never really laughs at himself. If there is a single sign of a man in serious trouble, it is one who no longer can laugh at his own foibles.
8 POSITIVE TACTICS FOR HANDLING HARRY HAIGHT
Tactic #1: keep cool and never, never let Harry provoke or intimidate you into an argument.
Never be defensive. Harry Haight is in his area of expertise when he argues ... and he is very effective at it. Further, he can be arbitrary and unreasonable if he has half an excuse.
Tactic #2: Listen! Listen! Listen! Actively listen to what Harry says and how he is saying it.
Active listening is tremendously effective in dealing with Harry Haight. His ego loves it. Actually it is a rare experience for Harry to have someone REALLY listen to him; most people are too intimidated to ACTIVELY listen to him. Active listening shows that you RESPECT Harry’s ideas, and he needs this badly. Listen WITHOUT COMMENT and remember you are not necessarily agreeing with him.
Here are several tactical rules for active listening, most of which were developed by Dr. Carl Rodgers:
- Ask occasional questions during pauses. Probe with questions to determine what Harry is trying to communicate. Convey that you understand and accept Harry’s feelings, though not necessarily that you agree with them.
- Don’t let wild, irrelevant remarks go by. Show you are listening by calmly probing Harry’s irrational and tangential asides with questions.
- Never interrupt or comment while Harry is in high gear. LISTEN! If he says something wrong, eventually ask for clarification. WHEN he gives clarification, simply KNIT YOUR BROW in deep concern and imply by your manner that you are intently concentrating on his statements.
- At appropriate lulls, summarize for Harry. Show you understand and have listened carefully by saying, “I believe I see what you mean. You are saying that... (repeat his comments)... Is that correct?”
- When and if Harry slows down and appears to be receptive, make your own comments honestly and frankly. You want to move Harry into a constructive problem-solving mode. Don’t ramble or beat around the bush. State your point of view. Then SHUT UP. Let Harry speak next. NEVER speak before he does. It shows uncertainty, and the first person who speaks loses.
- If Harry’s comment upon your position is evasive, you are perfectly correct if you ask him to summarize what you just said. Of course you must do this carefully, something like this: “Mr. Haight, I guess I failed to make my statement clear. What do you think I was trying to say?”
#3: Tactics to use against Harry’s temper tantrum.
If Harry has a temper tantrum, some special techniques are needed. Use all of the above active listening techniques, plus a few of these emergency tactics. REMEMBER that Harry WANTS to blow up. LET HIM. Help him–encourage him! That’s right! After his first wave of anger, ask for more!
“I understand why you’re angry! What else happened when they delivered your recliner?” “Could you tell me any more about it?” “They did? Wow, no wonder you are angry!” The idea is to use the old complaint department trick: TALK HIM TIRED. If he starts to run down, encourage him to keep going.
- Stare at Harry’s mouth. This works like magic. Listen attentively, but stare at his mouth if he gets especially abusive.
- Use the “Columbo” technique. When Harry has made an unfair and violent attack on you, you may handle it this way, provided you have the facts:
You look defeated. Then at the last moment you pause. “Mr. Haight,” you say, looking confused, “there is just one thing I don’t understand.” You will be surprised about how gently he will reply, something like: “Yes, what is it?”
“Well sir, you say we overcharged you for your recliner. But, I could not find a lower price for this recliner anywhere. I know that there is something I may have missed, but maybe you could explain to me where you saw it at a lower price?” Harry will probably bluster a bit, but if you have your facts right, he will respect you for standing up to him, even in this indirect way. Also, you did it in a manner that he could not take as a threat.
Tactic #4: Question! Question!
Tactic #5: Have the facts! Know the facts!
- Probing is a common technique for salespersons. Remember, probing is always effective and valuable. Probe Harry’s statements; ask for additional information. Show you are listening and want to know more.
Tactic #6: Be firm. Don’t capitulate! Harry hates quitters!
- Nothing succeeds with Harry like knowing what you are talking about. And, nothing will bring out his fangs faster than an unsupported and unwarranted assertion. Any statement you make must be supported by cold, hard facts. Harry is very suspicious of unsupported, empty claims, since he himself is so often guilty of making them. Don’t ever attempt to use the same tactics with him! Harry loves charts, pictures, graphs and similar data... the more the better. Be sure, though, that they are accurate and significant!
Tactic #7: how to handle sarcasm.
- Harry cannot stand weak, passive people. He respects confidence and strength. Once in a while say: “In my opinion“ or, “In my judgment.” Your use of the word “my” (or “I”) shows confidence. Hang in there, quietly, and patiently. Stick to your guns.
- Harry will often attack strong people in a different way, with little nasty barbs, especially around an audience. Most often these remarks are made in a “kidding” way, but Harry is not kidding. Harry usually does this needling at a time when it seems socially inappropriate for you to respond. This type of aggression is effective only if the victim is intimidated by the presence of other people by social convention. If you are on the receiving end of this type of aggression you will likely have the impulse to smile and shrug off the remark. Avoid the desire to go along with the interaction in a passive way, avoid the “peace at any price” temptation. You must challenge such snipes or you will be the victim over and over again. You must let Harry know that you have coldly noted his aggression.
This is difficult, because you cannot put Harry in the position of being challenged in front of others. On the other hand, you must interrupt the interaction. There are two relatively safe ways to do this. One is to simply probe his casual remark with cool curiosity. This is effective if you have strong data to refute his statement. Your probe might go: “I don’t understand why you said THAT, Mr. Haight. Are you kidding?” Don’t be afraid to challenge a totally false and unfair barb with factual data. Do it once or twice and Harry will avoid testing you again.
If Harry’s remark is simply some kind of a nasty, unanswerable snide, you still must react, and not by smiling and shrugging it off. DON'T SMILE if you think the remark is uncalled for. The only effective alternative is to use the cold pause and the iceberg stare. Simply stop and stare frankly at Harry (instead of staring at your feet). Then, purposefully break off the stare and perform some physical act. Move some object with authority, crisply organize your papers, or some other positive, confident action. It doesn’t matter if the action has specific meaning, simply that it is performed with an air of confidence. These three actions, the cold pause, the bold stare and the confident action should effectively break the interaction.
THE MASKS OF HARRY HAIGHT
Harry is actually a con man at heart. He can be as charming and sweet as anyone when he needs to be. When Harry must use manipulative tactics, he does so with great gusto. When Harry is manipulating someone, he deliberately uses what is called a MASK TACTIC. He usually acts the role of the good guy, Mike Mature or Gary Goodman. Beware of mask tactics.
Our next difficult customer is Fred Fridgide. Fred is a Hostile/Timid personality, and has a similar world view as Harry Haight, but he is very different in how he attempts to cope. Very different tactics are required when dealing with him.
THE REAL FRED FRIDGIDE
Fred Fridgide is a man who is afraid. He sees the world much as Harry Haight sees it. Fred would agree with Harry that people are dangerous and self-serving. He is as hostile toward the world around him as Harry Haight is to his world. The difference is that Fred has a very negative self-image. He is not assertive and courageous the way Harry is. He is, in fact, timid. He seeks order, security, predictability, and sameness.
Yet, even though Fred is timid, he is not helpless. His passiveness is obvious, but he bitterly resents anyone who takes advantage of him. Fred broods and plans revenge against anyone who would exploit him. Fred is a dead-ender, the original loser. You could contrast Fred’s situation with Harry’s in this manner: Harry Haight is a man on a log roll, running faster and faster to keep from falling... while Fred is holding on to his log and trying to keep it from moving! Each man sees the “waters” around him as dangerous and shark-infested, yet each takes a different attitude. Harry is a fighter and he refuses to show any fear; Fred is a “hanger-on” who only wants to survive.
SIX POSITIVE TACTICS FOR HANDLING FRED FRIDGIDE
You are dealing with a man who is suspicious, and who needs reassurance. Dealing with Fred requires great patience. Fred will attempt to handle problems by indirectly rejecting them. He avoids, rather than directly challenging them. Fred avoids by procrastinating, by refusing to comment upon a situation, by simply withdrawing and acting indifferent, and by making one objection after another to suggested solutions.
Tactic #1: Project a reassuring, dependable image
Tactic #2: Question! Listen! Consider!
- •Slow down! You need to move almost in slow motion or you will cause Fred to withdraw.
- Be moderate in your speech. Pitch your voice a tone or two lower and modulate it pleasantly. Use short sentences and moderate words. Never try to impress him with large words and complicated thinking. Project candor and honesty. Know your subject, be confident and pleasant.
- Never act familiar, or too quickly assume Fred has been won over. Do not take Fred’s trust for granted; you must constantly rebuild this relationship.
- Fred hates aggressive people, but he also has a deep distrust of a sugary, goody-goody individual.
One of the better ways to break the ice with Fred is to use probing questions and masterful pauses.
Tactic #3: Pause! Pause! Pause!
- When you ask a question, wait patiently for the answer. Sooner or later Fred will speak, and when he does, consider his words carefully.
- When Fred does reply, wait a bit before you answer or make another statement; Fred will distrust you if you too quickly shoot from the hip and reply instantly.
- The pause is the most effective weapon in your arsenal for dealing with Fred Fridgide. NEVER talk to fill up the spaces and the gaps in the conversation. These gaps are the parts of a communication situation that Fred likes best!
- If Fred begins a particular behavior to avoid listening to you, like looking out of a window or reading something, simply pause. Wait until he is tracking you again. Remember that Fred does not perform these actions of avoidance to be consciously rude and insensitive. They are simply habits he has developed. They are not directed toward you, but rather at life in general.
- Deep down Fred wants to be led, but he does not want to be taken advantage of. Leading Fred along without seeming to dominate him requires unusual skill. Do not be disturbed if pauses last several minutes. Wait Fred out. Understanding the power of a pause can greatly improve your skills as a communicator.
Tactic #4: Lead - Take the initiative, but never, never push!
Tactic #5: Try to get Fred involved.
- Fred wants you to make decisions for him, but he never wants to be pushed. You must guide him to obvious conclusions and then leave him alone. Fred will permit you a degree of latitude if he believes that he can trust you, and that you are dependable and honest.
Tactic #6: Know the facts, but don't overwhelm Fred!
- This can be accomplished by the process of probing, by asking for his advice and listening carefully. Never be phony with Fred (or anyone else!), but seek to compliment him if you can honestly do so. Seek to establish some common ground for better communication.
THE MASK TACTICS OF FRED FRIDGIDE
- Fred hates someone who lords over him. On the other hand, Fred is impressed by someone who has confidence, who knows his subject and can communicate it.
- Use reassuring communication, but never act ingratiating. Fred is often an emotional drag, so try to get “up” for your conversations with him and never let him know he is annoying you or draining your enthusiasm.
Little need be said about the mask tactics and strategies of Fred Fridgide. Fred almost never uses a mask of any kind. He simply cannot stomach acting the part of Gary Goodman, and he cannot sustain the part of Mike Mature. Once in a while Fred will come on like Harry Haight, but this is a rare situation.
The reason Fred doesn’t often attempt to use mask tactics is that he believes people will do what they want to in the end anyway, and they cannot be influenced. So why go through all the work of a mask strategy? Even when Fred does attempt to use a mask, he does so without conviction and is very lackluster about it. He seems to sense that his attempt to influence another is doomed to failure, so why try? When seriously frustrated, Fred acts more and more like Fred, more withdrawn, more hostile, more self-pitying.
Next we have a good guy type of customer, Gary Goodman, the Warm/Timid personality.
GARY GOODMAN. A MAN ADDICTED TO WARMTH
Gary is a man addicted to the approval of others. He has strong security and esteem needs, and the role of leadership is not comfortable for him. Gary’s addictions color and influence his buying behavior, even to the point of hurting his buying judgments. The hunger for warmth that Gary feels is real. It is a very powerful drive. When Gary is subjected to disapproval or rejection, it can cause him to be depressed and self-pitying. Gary’s basic technique is to win approval by being “nice.” He bestows warmth and expects warmth in return. Gary seeks to get his way by manipulating, by killing with kindness.
When Gary is thwarted and slips into a sulking mood, he is actually attempting (in some measure) to “get his way” by making others feel guilty. Meanwhile, critical problems are being ignored, because Gary cannot cope with conflict and negative situations. He tries to mollify and pacify the assertive people around him. Do not underestimate Gary. Like most Warm/Timid individuals, Gary has his own ways of fighting back and getting even. He dislikes and resents being taken advantage of.
FIVE Positive WAYS TO HANDLE GARY GOODMAN
Tactic #1: Probe into Gary's quick and easy agreements.
- Because Gary avoids controversy and likes to please, he often misleads people into thinking that he is in agreement with them, when indeed he is not. Gary will assure you that he understands when he does not, and will seem to agree with a course of action when he has no conviction about it at all. Gary doesn’t like to deny anyone anything, so he tends to lead people on. He holds out hope for a sale when there is no prospect of one at all.
- Be cautious with Gary. He will pull the rug out when you least expect it. So be sure to pin him down. Resolutely seek to make him take a position that is clear. Ask questions until he is committed. You may cause some hidden objections to emerge, but this is good. Better to find out what Gary thinks now, before you are out on a limb by yourself.
Tactic #2: Avoid (yes, avoid) facts!
Tactic #3: Don't attempt exploitive tactics.
- Amazingly, when Gary is presented with detail and supporting data about something, he loses interest. Gary wants to know that a proposition is sound; he wants to trust you. He wants to believe in you, to have confidence in you. Unless you are “far-out” as an individual, he will seek to rely on your judgment and avoid the discomfort of making a decision. Give Gary the broad aspects and forget the detailed options. But, you need to live up to the faith that Gary places in you, so base your own decisions on considered data.
Tactic #4: Let Gary have his rope.
- If Gary gets the idea that you are exploiting his immaturity and his passiveness, he will deeply resent it. So don't even permit yourself to think in a manipulative manner. Be sincere, and understand that Gary has a fine quality (that of sensitiveness) and that this quality extends to consideration of your feelings. Be considerate of his.
Tactic #5: Recognize Gary's needs.
- Gary likes to discuss all manner of things and he avoids tough issues. Be patient about this. Be firm, strong and re-focus the conversation upon significant matters, but don't be severe and austere. Permit Gary to re-establish his confidence in your reliability; let him visit with you for a while. After you have established favorable circumstances for communication, then go on with your sales presentation.
•Gary is constantly trying to prove his worthiness to enjoy esteem and approval. No matter how many times he achieves this proof, he must renew it over and over again. Gary seeks to get warmth by giving it. He also seeks stability, strength and trustworthiness in other people. But Gary does recognize ability and confidence, and he will rely on an honest, optimistic and capable salesperson.
Even the laudable qualities of sensitivity and warmth need to be augmented by assertiveness and practicality, or they will simply be swept aside. Unfortunately, people like Gary, when they are frustrated, often attempt to desensitize themselves rather than simply assert themselves. It is possible, although it is a rare combination, to be both assertive and sensitive. In fact, our final customer, Mike Mature, balances and synthesizes each of these Compassionate/ Assertive qualities.
THE REAL MIKE MATURE
To a greater degree than any other customer we have studied, Mike is what he appears to be. People like Mike are more unique and diverse than immature people. Mike is the balanced, Compassionate/Assertive type of personality.
Mike's flexibility is due to natural or developed affection for people, rather than a deliberate attempt to manipulate or get along. He really likes most people. He has little difficulty adjusting to people’s personalities. Mike’s encouragement of creativity is rooted in his own confidence, his self-respect, and his own creative tendencies. He encourages genuine two-way communication during the buying sequence.
FOUR POSITIVE TACTICS FOR MIKE MATURE
Mike is the one kind of customer you can be up-front with; you can be candid and direct with him. Harry has a gigantic ego problem that you must work around. Fred requires great skill in approach and in communications. Gary is difficult to keep focused on the matter at hand. Mike, however, is a genuine two-way communicator. He will listen as well as talk. The “tactics” that follow are basic suggestions for getting the most from a healthy selling environment.
WHERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SCIENTIFIC SELLING
- STRIVE to maintain a relationship of healthy mutual respect.
- GUIDE the selling sequence to Mike in terms of mutual enlightened self-interest.
- BE INNOVATIVE and bold. Use your creativity. Mike will not be threatened.
- KNOW YOUR FACTS, but be considerate as well as assertive. Be ready to revise your presentation in the light of new data.
We have barely scratched the surface of a very important process. In my book, “Immature People with Power… How to Handle Them” (available on Amazon or www.LarryMullins.com ) you will find additional helpful information. For those who want deeper scientific data, read “Effective Selling Through Psychology … Dimensional Sales and Sales Management Strategies” by Buzzotta, Lefton and Sherberg.
Larry Mullins is a contributing editor for Furniture World and has 30+ years of experience on the front lines of furniture marketing. Larry’s mainstream executive experience, his creative work with promotion specialists, and mastery of advertising principles have established him as one of the foremost experts in furniture marketing. His affordable High-Impact programs produce legendary results for everything from cash raising events to profitable exit strategies. His newest books, THE METAVALUES BREAKTHROUGH and IMMATURE PEOPLE WITH POWER… How to Handle Them have recently been released by Morgan James Publishing. Joe Girard, “The World’s Greatest Salesman” said of this book: “If I had read Larry Mullins’ book when I started out, I would have reached the top much sooner than I did.” Larry is founder and CEO of UltraSales, Inc. and can be reached directly at 904.794.9212 or at Larrym@furninfo.com. See more articles by Larry at www.furninfo.com or www.ultrasales.com.
View all articles by Larry Mullins