My recent column Top 5 Ways Big Customers Screw With Small Vendors points out that some buyers see sellers—that means you—as scapegoats. Buyers use the fact they needn't work with you on a daily basis as an excuse to vent their frustration by exploding at you.
Sometimes such customer-explosions are be triggered by something that you, or your company, did that wasn't to the buyer's liking. And sometimes the abuse seems to simply comes out of nowhere. Regardless, what's important isn't where it comes from, but rather how you deal with it.
Unfortunately, many sellers deal with this kind of behavior in exactly the wrong way. They sit there and take it, then meekly apologize.
That's the absolute worst thing you can do.
The moment you let a customer bully you, you've completely lost that customer's respect. Worse, you've set yourself up for a relationship of further bullying and abuse.
Here's a simple six-step recipe for defusing this situation.
Just this weekend, I came across a perfect example of how to counter bullying in Steve Jobs's biography. Jobs was probably one of the worst bullies in the corporate world, often reducing people to tears. However, when Jobs yelled at his chief designer, the chief designer reacted very differently than did most people. He yelled right back.
Guess who kept Jobs's respect?
Along the same lines, I once worked for a bully who'd pick out a staff member at every meeting to yell at and berate. The one staff member who wasn't treated this way was a woman who, when he tried it on her the first time, threw a pencil at him and told him to "stop acting like an a------."
In short, when you placate, you're just proving to the bully that you're weak and stupid. The bully figures that if you had something valuable to offer, you wouldn't take the guff.
By contrast, when you lay down the law and demand the respect due a professional, you're creating the credibility that the bully needs to see before he begins to trust that you can do the job.