In sales, external factors are less important to success than the actions performed by a salesperson. Meaning: even in a bad economy, with a high price-point and perhaps even an inferior product to the competition, salespeople can still win if they become extremely competent and knowledgeable about their tools and products. However, one external factor does present a real barrier regardless of the salesperson’s competence — and that is a bad reputation regarding her company or product.
Negative perceptions might come from news reports, scandals, accidents, poor customer service, inferior product performance, and even false rumors. Regardless of the source, part of sales process management for every organization should include remedies for negative perceptions.
Here are 3 tips to consider:
1. Take responsibility
While the first instinct might be to get defensive when faced with criticism from a buyer, it is not productive. A salesperson should never argue; instead, she should hear the prospect out and acknowledge his concern. Something caused those negative opinions of the company or product, and it is the salesperson’s job to take responsibility for addressing them. If the upset was caused by the salesperson herself, it should be admitted and an apology issued immediately. Often, that is all that is necessary to restore a business relationship.
One caveat: some customers are genuinely difficult and will never be satisfied. If an inordinate amount of time is spent trying to placate one, or if he attacks a salesperson personally, it is probably best that he be “fired” as a client.
2. Demonstrate improvements
Another effective way to combat negative perceptions in the field is to demonstrate improvements undertaken by a company to remedy poor past performance. Steps that can be taken include:
• Showing metrics proving increased efficiency, to combat past slow delivery
• Presenting a roster of new service personnel, to address prior bad service
• Discuss how new processes have been put into place to ensure accidents or other poor outcomes will be prevented in the future
• Countering any false rumors with documented facts. If the source of the rumor is known, a public retraction could be sought — especially if data showing they were misinformed is available to show them.
The sales process management tip here boils down to acting like a public relations specialist somewhat in order to get back into communication with a buyer and rebuild their trust.
3. Use testimonials and coaches
Testimonials from customers can greatly help a salesperson to overcome negative perceptions in the marketplace, especially if the testimonials praise recent improvements made by a business. It shows that the company not only made a concerted effort to remedy the situation, but that others have already tested out the waters and received satisfactory results.
A coach, insider, or trusted referral source can also help dispel fear or negative impressions by vouching for the salesperson’s product even though a bad reputation exists. Sale process management should include the development of coaches by determining who is close to the decision makers internally, or who influences them outside of their company. If these influencers can genuinely vouch for the salesperson’s offering, it might be enough to secure an appointment which may have been impossible before due to a poor image.
When faced with negative perceptions, salespeople should proactively address them instead of withdrawing with their tails between their legs. The key in this sales process management item is to develop a sense of responsibility for the negative image and work towards remedying it through communication and letting prospects vent. After all, they could just have a completely wrong idea of the truth.