In 13 years of training salespeople, I have found that no matter their background, their education, or their skill set, there is one type of client objection that makes them all back away just as fast as they can go--the bad experience. This always astounds me because a bad experience is the most useful objection I can hear when I am selling. Far from being the resounding "no" that sales reps imagine it to be, it is actually the door opening wide. Here's what it means and how to use it.

A customer that mentions having had a problem is a customer who wants to talk about it. She doesn't tell me she is angry at my company or bring up being wronged only to stop the conversation there. If that was the case, she would just keep quiet and send me packing with a generic and difficult to broach "I'm not interested." By bringing up the issue, she is letting me know she wants to tell me what happened, she wants me to hear her--and she wants me to resolve the problem. I can only do that if I encourage her to tell me her story, listen carefully, and probe to get straight to the heart of the matter:

1. Were we notified and given a chance to fix the issue? A customer who feels wronged often prefers to avoid conflict and never let the company in question know that she has a concern--she just goes dark. The moment she gives voice to the incident, it becomes an opportunity to show how good my company really is and I would say something like "I'm so sorry this happened. You know, when you give us a heads up about things like this, we can make it right immediately. We'll credit you or replace the damaged piece, and we never make you jump through hoops to get that done. I'm going to do that right now so we can clear this up."

2. Why is the customer still angry about the incident? If the problem was brought to our attention and the customer is still talking about it, she didn't feel heard--even if a solution was offered. Solution does not always equal resolution in a customer's mind. However, this does not mean it is a kiss of death from the customer--rather a chance to listen harder than the last person did and offer a better way forward, by saying something like "that must have been really frustrating to get the wrong size item. Would you like me to mark your account that you only want this size from now on so anyone taking your order will know?"

3. What can we do to help the customer grow her business going forward? Even on the heels of a bad experience, my job is to continue to help my customer get what she needs from my company. The easiest way to do that is by helping the customer put the problem officially behind her. To do so, I can something like "I'm glad we got the issue cleared up. I wouldn't want you to miss out on the new line of aftercare we brought in. I think it will really help your clients care for the work you have done on them." This lets them know that we can move forward together despite any bumps we have encountered.

Instead of slinking away from negative experience objections, sales reps should regard them as useful because they are always specific--unlike empty or obtuse rejections like "I'm good right now" or "If I need something, I'll call you". Vague obstacles require much more finesse (and experience) to get around than a flat out "you screwed up on X". Sales reps who learn to relish negative push-back, rather than run from it, will see that it's actually the fastest way to open the conversation on more sales.