Dealing With Highly Aggressive, Intimidating Customers

by  Leonard L. Given

Every member of the sales team who has been out in the field for even a short period of time has probably run into the take-charge, opinionated, and sometimes demanding customer. For some of us in sales the reaction is, "GREAT!! I have a hot one; someone who knows what she wants and who will make a decision." For others in sales, the reaction is, "This person is really overbearing. He doesn't let others talk and he's not willing to listen to what I have to offer. I feel intimidated." Which reaction is the right one? They both are because our reaction is highly dependent upon our own personality and our comfort level with certain attributes of others. What is important, however, is how we act and react toward this aggressive customer.

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First we must understand that the aggressive person can be a very easy to deal with, if we recognize that person's needs, desires, and how he or she is likely to react to different stimuli. But, here the picture gets confusing as the highly aggressive, intimidating customer is not just one broad personality. Actually, there are two broad personality types that, at times, can fit the mold we just described and . . . they are driven and motivated by totally different things.

Not All The Big Cats Are Tigers

The first broad personality we'll call "type 1". This individual achieves his aggressive drive from a desire to accomplish and attain personal growth. What is important to him is achieving ever greater levels of accomplishment. The focus is usually intense and short-term; those long-range visions can be interesting, but that which is in sight is what is important. He is resilient and exhibits a high degree of stamina.

The other highly aggressive customer we'll call "type 2". This individual achieves her aggressive drive from a high level of dominance and a competitive nature. Controlling everything and everyone within her field of vision is important. Sometimes explosive emotion, impulsiveness and decisiveness are part of this individual's makeup.

How Do I Know Which Is Type 1? Type 2?

While they are quite different internally, they can appear much the same during infrequent sales encounters. So, how does the salesperson tell the difference? There are clues everywhere that can be learned in our workshops. However there are some major clues that the reader can put into his or her tool kit.

Our "type 1" customer maintains long work hours and is very detail oriented; your appointment time may be 7am or 7pm. When you do talk to this person, expect her to probe into the details until she knows what, why, and how. However, there will be a short attention span if the material is not deemed relevant to her short-term objective. When she has seen enough, she will readily tell you what she wants to do, or make a necessary decision.

Our "type 2" customer is more concerned with controlling you and the conversation and he does not care about the details; ultimate results are the focus. Feeling superior to you is important and putdowns are sometimes used to test you. Frequently you can expect sarcastic remarks toward you or your company; challenges; and a combative nature if you dare to question or disagree with him. One-ups-manship is always operative in the background and his surroundings are designed to inform you of his importance.

Taming The Big Cats

As was stated at the beginning of this article, the outer appearance of these two customers can look the same. They are both aggressive and generally take-charge by nature. While the type 2 aggressive customer is normally impatient and demanding, the type 1 can also be this way when his short-term goals are threatened. Despite this similarity, there are two entirely different minds residing under the skull and what you do to gain your unfair share of mind of one may well be a turnoff to the other.

For both customers you must be prepared for your meeting or you will lose both the battle and the war. However, here the similarity stops.

The type 1 customer needs:

  • details - enough to feel personally conversant on the topic of the meeting. Therefore you need to be prepared with the details and, if you are not highly knowledgeable, bring someone with you who can competently present and answer questions.
  • efficiency - do not waste time with small talk – state what you are there for and begin developing the content of the meeting. Do not stray into side issues. If there is a perception you are wasting time, the meeting will soon be over.
  • short-term solutions – this person likes to have long-term payoffs, but her focus is fully on the challenges in front of her. If you are only promising big payoffs two or three years down the road, she will likely opt to pass on it for now. If, you are offering solutions to challenges this person has on the horizon, or will within a short period of time, she will likely want your solution now.
  • opportunity to achieve – he wants to do things better and accomplish more tomorrow than he was able to do today. He is willing to take calculated risks on state-of-the-art solutions if they will help him climb the highest peaks in sight.

If you are direct, professional, and can provide the type 1 customer with convincing details of solutions that will allow him to excel in his short-term challenges, expect him to commit. You will not need to use salesmanship to close, just ask for his commitment directly. He is decisive and will not even bother following up with references.

The type 2 customer needs:

  • to feel superior – compliments that are derived from truth and presented in a sincere manner go a long way toward establishing his comfort with you. One of his characteristics is a highly competitive nature. He believes he is superior to you (or wants to be) and will go to great lengths to attain that position. If you challenge his knowledge, wisdom, or authority, even in an innocuous way, you will find yourself in a contest and the purpose of your meeting will be forgotten.
  • to control – this customer has a high level of dominance and wants to be "in control" of everything that enters his domain. This includes you the salesperson in terms of the conversation; other people in the meeting; decisions; and ultimately you and your company if you become a vendor to him.
  • to respect you – if she feels you are not worthy of her attention, she will terminate the meeting. She may check on your worthiness by challenging what you are saying with a sarcastic remark. If you wilt under her challenge, you will have lost everything before your sales effort even gets underway. If you return the challenge, you will be in a contest as stated above. The proper response is confidence and a quick explanation that supports your position. You might say, for example, "I'm glad you asked that question. We actually are leaders in that area as evidenced by . . . "
  • results versus details – unlike the Type 1 Customer, this person has no interest in, nor patience for, details. All she wants to know is the payoff and are you going to be responsible for the outcome. How you get there is unimportant. If you try to introduce details, for which she did not ask, you are taking away her control and you will create a significant level of discomfort. You will not get her commitment. The proper approach is to provide key points or bulleted remarks, as opposed to details, in both your written and verbal presentations.

If you present yourself with confidence and avoid details, while allowing this customer to feel superior (even though you know he is not) and maintain control, you will remain someone with whom he is willing to interact. Having created a comfort zone for him, you will find him the easiest person of all from which to gain a commitment. How you do that is by always offering alternatives (each of which you can live with) and then back off and let him decide. He will always make a decision and he will feel smarter and in control by telling you what to do.

‹‹ Leonard L. Given
[About the Author]

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