Whiplash on the Sales Force

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, May 26, 2015 @ 06:05 AM


I don't know too many people who saw the award-winning movie Whiplash.  This past winter, Tom Schaff, an OMG Partner in St. Louis, recommended it and thought that I would love it.  As luck would have it, we were living in an igloo this past February, when temperatures never rose above freezing (for 6 weeks), we had nearly 10 feet of snow on the ground, and our home was encased in ice.  That was a great time to be watching movies!  I did love Whiplash and there were so many great scenes that I could have written about. I never did get around to writing about it, but no problem.  Chris Collias, a friend, loyal reader, and longtime client going back to the 1980's, sent me an email with his suggestion for an article.  Here it is.  Chris said that the main character, the incredible drummer, Andrew, is a metaphor for a salesperson. Fletcher, the brutal and narcisistic music professor, could be viewed as an extremely difficult customer or prospect.   

In the movie, the more impossible that Fletcher made it for Andrew, the harder Andrew worked.  The louder Fletcher yelled, the quicker Andrew put his head down and tried harder.  The more manipulative Fletcher became, the more tireless Andrew was.  Andrew is the epitomy of commitment - doing whatever it takes to succeed.  It wasn't conditional commitment; it was unconditional commitment. No-matter-what.

Chris noted that many salespeople aren’t committed to their profession.  They don’t put in the 1,000 hours that it takes to achieve mastery so when they encounter a prospect similar to Fletcher (who actually threw a cymbal at Andrew's head), they don’t react by working harder or facing their weaknesses. Instead, they rationalize, make excuses, or move on to another company (or band). 

Chris said, "Andrew was able to overcome his nemesis by working hard, planting his feet, and calling his tormentor's bluff by delivering his best.  Some prospects, especially in purchasing, can be real bastards.  However, instead of becoming emotional, timid, defensive or sarcastic, you should view them as providing an opportunity for learning. Face them head on, remain calm, and consider that you might be the only salesperson who ever got this far with this particular difficult prospect."

Well stated, Chris!

In many cases, difficult prospects are actually easier to sell because there isn't a whole lot of competition.  Most salespeople give up or lose the prospect's respect before they get remotely close to doing any business with them.

It is important to be aware of potential weaknesses though.  For example, if you have need for approval - the need to be liked - it may be very difficult for you to navigate a situation like this without worrying about what the prospect will think or say or do.  Get over it.  

If you have difficulty recovering from rejection, you may be very uncomfortable putting yourself in a situation where a prospect like this could reject you.  You have nothing to lose!

If you lack self-confidence, it might be scary to jump in and deal with a prospect like this.  Push yourself and do it anyway.

As Chris says, difficult prospects will make you stronger and that will make it even easier for you to deal with prospects who are normal.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, sales weaknesses, objective management group, difficult customers,

Only Elite Salespeople Have This Challenge

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Feb 05, 2015 @ 11:02 AM


This morning I was coaching Mike, a very good salesperson, and it happened.  It also happened to Chip and Jim and Jeremy.  And in all four cases, it happened this week.  There are a litany of things that salespeople could do better, and topping the list would normally be things like, consultative selling, having better conversations, selling value, closing, filling the pipeline, and following a sales process.  Great salespeople like Mike are effective enough to deal with and close very difficult prospects and as a result, they often have very difficult customers who present challenges that lousy salespeople never, ever have to deal with! 

The biggest challenge with difficult customers is that they are often not happy - not because you and your company didn't do what you promised, but because their expectations were different from your expectations.  And if there was one thing that great salespeople selling to difficult prospects could do better, it would be to set very clear expectations about exactly who is responsible for what, and when, and how, and where, and why, and for good measure, "what" one more time.

The best way to do that is to ask the new customer if there is anything else they were expecting and if there isn't, to be clear that anything beyond what we just laid out is beyond the scope of the project or purchase and have them sign something that clearly states that.  This is when a concise, clearly worded scope of work agreement is very useful and necessary.

Of course this is about difficult customers, not great salespeople. Yet nearly every deal, sale, account, customer, or project that I have ever seen fall apart happened because of a misunderstanding. While those misunderstandings can be accidental, difficult customers usually seek to create chaos all around them by engaging in purposely unrealistic expectations and drama.  They love to see people cater to them, apologize, fix their imagined problems, and generally bow to their imagined royal powers and influence.

Lousy salespeople never get far enough to disappoint, but elite salespeople impress them enough to get their business - and that's when the problems begin.  Setting very clear expectations up front can be quite helpful, but it's equally important to level set the playing field at the first sign of trouble.  Rather than going into problem-solving mode, a difficult customer needs to be told that they might be able to get away with this behavior with everyone else, but they have met their match and they won't be able to walk all over you and your people. Then at renewal time, they won't be able to leverage their past problems and frustrations with your incompetence to demand better prices.

If you gain their respect, they will do business with you forever.  If you go into servant mode, they will eventually replace you and your company with the next salesperson that they can walk all over. 


Topics: Dave Kurlan, difficult customers,, elite salespeople, difficult sales

Content not found
Subscribe via Email

View All 2,000 Articles published by Dave

About Dave

Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

Email Dave

View Dave Kurlan's LinkedIn profile View Dave Kurlan's profile


Receive new articles via email
 to the Blog on your Kindle 



Most Recent Articles


Top 50 Sales & Marketing Blogs 2021

Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame Inductee

Hall of Fame

 Hall of Fame


Top Blog Post

Expert Insights

Top 50 most innovative sales bloggers


Top Blog

Hubspot Top 25 Blogs


2021 Top20 Web Large_assessment_eval