The Sales Person’s Guide to Handling Bad News

Sales people, because they are regularly in front of customers, need to know how to handle situations in which their company's image has been adversely affected.

How you conduct yourself with your customers in the face of negative announcements, either in the press or "bad news" announcements made by your company is important. You need to consider exactly what you are going to say to your customers and how you will say it.

Problems or major changes in a supplier’s company can quickly lead to customers losing confidence. You only have to look at the news to find examples of this happening: Easy Jet’s recent problems with a lack of pilots to fly its scheduled flights and the subsequent cancellation of many flights being just one recent example.

From the business customer’s point of view, worrying events can include a financial crisis, projected changes in your business’s management, changes to the product and planned changes to sales outlets. These events can easily lead to even your best customers becoming more hesitant about making a purchasing decision and placing an order with you.

There are six important things to remember:

1. If the customer makes references to current rumors, respond immediately. Providing factual information creates clarity for the customer and takes the wind out of the negative rumor mill’s sails.

2. Be direct when you are explaining your company’s current situation to a customer. Explain the problem and its effects on the customer specifically.

3. Avoid apportioning blame. The customer is not interested and does not want to know who is the cause of the problem. They are interested in what concrete steps you are taking to protect them against its negative effects.

4. Do ensure you listen. Salespeople like to talk. Whilst, naturally, the customer wants to know your side of the story they also want to air their concerns and thoughts. They want you to be understanding about their worries and to feel that they are really being listened to. So make time to listen as well as talk.

5. Keep communication going. When you have taken a step towards mastering the crisis then make sure you actively spread the good news as well.

6. Do not promise too much. If you awaken false hopes you are gambling with every ounce of credibility you have built up with the customer. Under promise and over deliver maintains credibility in difficult situations.

These six tips will help you to conduct yourself professionally if you need to handle negative announcements and bad news with your customers.