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The rude saleslady didn't realize that we spare no expense with my son's music education.
Do you make this unforgivable mistake with your customers?


Last weekend I walked into a consignment shop with my kids, and immediately noticed a display of musical instruments. 


If you've known me for at least a year, you probably realize that I am the type of person who routinely splurges on musical instruments: My husband and I met at a music conservatory, we spend at least at thousand dollars a year on music lessons for our kids, my husband bought two saxophones in the past two years, even though we own a piano and just bought a keyboard I still wanted to get the $200 piano that I saw at the last moving sale I went to, and I promised myself that the next time I get a big client I will buy myself a piccolo trumpet.


So when Calvin and I passed the instrument display we released an in-unison mother/boy "ooohh." 


There were guitars, flutes, clarinets, and accordions. But what caught our attention was a dusty old melody harp. Even though the price ($150) was a little high, I was immediately considering buying it because Calvin in in the throes of a music class where they play a lot of songs on a melody harp. I lifted him up to the case so he could strum the instrument. Just as I was imagining where in my house I would put this instrument, a saleswoman noticed what we were doing and said, "He's not supposed to be up there."


I said, "Would it be OK if we put it on this chair so we can look at it?"


She said, "Actually, he shouldn't be touching anything. That is on consignment and we can't let people touch things."


I thought, "Congratulations, lady, you just lost a sale." 


Our shopping experience got worse from there, to the point where I've vowed to leave a scathing review and never return, but for now I want to talk about what went wrong.


I was so close to buying that overpriced second-hand instrument. I wanted it, I had the money, and it was for my kid, so all logic just went out the window. In that moment, instead of being a true sales professional, she chose to treat us like a couple of low-lifes who would drop the melody harp and never be able to pay for the damage. 


That's not the way I see myself. In fact, that's extremely insulting. I don't think I could ever forgive her for insulting me like that. No customer would. Which brings me to the most unforgivable mistake that you can commit with your customers....


Do you ever insult your customers? (never!)


The problem is that the whole buying and selling dynamic is full of situations where the customer can feel insulted. A friend of mine, who sells insurance, said that if his potential customers feel talked down to, or lectured, they will instantly close off and the sale will be over.


Jeff Thul, author of Exceptional Selling; How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales, offers several suggestions that can help you avoid insulting your customers. 


You may be wondering why it would make such a big difference whether or not you insult your customers. After all, your customers are all logical people, right?


They are, for the most part. The problem is that their "Old Brain," the limbic system that controls attacks, submissions, flights, reproduction and nurturing, reacts much faster than the analytical cerebral cortex. Thul wrote, "Think about how quickly a customer's gesture or tone of voice or tone of voice can trigger a negative a negative perception, or worse, a negative reaction in you... There is a good chance that you are seeing a the Old Brain and the adaptive unconscious at work in these situations. When people react negatively and things start heading downhill, conversations can quickly get out of control and they become even harder to turn around.


Here are two techniques to prevent insults


Make a habit of always asking assumptive questions. Thul said, "Assumptive Questions are worded in such a way that the customers awareness and expertise remain unquestioned." Even if the customer is not fully aware and if they don't completely know what they're talking about, they will be flattered when you pose the question in this manner.


Try to avoid confrontational language. There are situations when you may need to clarify a point with a customer. If you say, "Could you be more specific?" you are indirectly accusing the customer of not speaking clearly. (Thul calls this a dangling insult.) You can avoid insulting the customer by asking questions like, "Could you tell me more about...?" or "Could you give me an example of....?" or "When did you first notice...?"


There is an important reason to rethink the way we talk to our customers. We have to protect their self-esteem. Thul wrote, "When salespeople inadvertently damage their customer's self-esteem, they risk losing the cooperation and participation that is so important to the sales process."


I mainly deal with written marketing materials, and many of you are interested in selling in print. Go through your company's sales materials to see if there are any dangling insults and find a way to re-write them in a way that assumes that your customer knows and understands more. 

I look forward to spreading the word about your business success. Keep in touch!

Mandy Marksteiner
Copywriter and Marketing Consultant

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