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HOW TO SELL ANYTHING

7 Reasons the Customer Is Often Wrong

It's simply not true that "The Customer is Always Right." Sometimes they're dead wrong.
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One of the great maxims of selling is "The Customer is Always Right." However, like many sales maxims, that statement is misleading. In fact, customers are frequently wrong and you'll need to react appropriately when they are.  Here's how:

1. When a customer demands free consulting.

Sometimes prospective customers insist you provide substantial up-front work before they'll consider buying. ("We'll consider you for the job if you write us a detailed, 50 page proposal.") If write such a proposal, chances are it will be edited into RFP and opened for bidding from your competitors.

How To React: Demand concessions or payment in return for any significant labor. For example, if you write a proposal, insist on being able to present it to the entire top management team.

2. When a customer demands unethical behavior.

Unfortunately for everyone concerned, corruption is becoming a huge problem. While bribery and kickbacks are the price of doing business in some parts of the world, it's always a mistake to do business with companies that are unethical because eventually they will do something unethical to you.

How To React: Refuse to business with criminals.  Yes, you may be outflanked by less scrupulous competitors, but they'll be the ones who will be in the line of fire when the proverbial hits the fan.

3. When a customer makes unreasonable demands.

Some customers believe that the only negotiating position that vendors should take is over a barrel. However, business deals that don't work for both parties eventually go sour and the customer ends up losing, because if the vendor isn't making money, it won't remain in business.

How To React: Be prepared to walk away if the customer is consistently unreasonable.  Trust me, keeping that customer won't be worth the ongoing hassle.

4. When a customer acts out of bigotry.

Amazingly, this stuff still happens. There are still decision-makers in this world who won't do business with sales reps who are female, LGBT, or belong to a different "race." I've even heard of a male being bounced from an account because all of the decision-makers were female.

How To React: Refuse to do business with bigots.  Remember: when you play with skunks, you always end up smelling really bad.

5. When a customer buys for the wrong reason.

Sometimes decision-makers buy stuff for personal reasons rather than business reasons.  For example, sometimes an executive will buy from a company in a certain industry simply to get a foothold in that industry.  A fair amount of the privatization of government services falls into this category.

How To React: Withdraw from these fake "opportunities" unless you're planning on feeding from the same trough.

6. When a customer is abusive.

I've heard many, many stories about salespeople who were subjected to fits of anger, yelling and personal invective. Often such behavior is tolerated because, after all, "the customer is always right."  That's BS.  If a customer is acting in a childish and unprofessional manner, that customer is in the wrong.

How To React: Make it clear that you will not tolerate unprofessional behavior.  If you do not receive it, leave immediate area.  Secure a written promise of professional behavior before working with that customer again.

7. When a customer reneges on a commitment.

Customers sometimes make promises--even in writing--that they fail to honor.  While they may have some excuse for their behavior, it's still wrong, because the vendor may have made commitments to other people based upon the (apparently mistaken) belief that the customer is honorable.

How To React: First incident, give the customer a pass.  Second incident: it's Sayonara!  Or, as a former President of the United States once tried to say: "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."

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IMAGE: Shutterstock/Everett Collection
Last updated: Aug 13, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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