The Customer Is Always Right – Except When They’re Not


Here’s why you need to slow down just when it feels like you should speed up.

There’s an inevitable feeling of fatigue at the end of a long sales cycle. I’ve worked alongside salespeople on very large opportunities who, once the deal is about to be signed, just want to get it closed and move on.

Maybe it’s because they’re short on time. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the quarter or year, and they’re under pressure from management to bring in business. Whatever the case, it’s an understandable feeling, and I’ve felt it, too.

One problem with that feeling is what happens when it occurs at the same time that a customer wants to make a change. When someone you’ve spent months working with decides abruptly to trim the scope of the project or make another revision right before signing on the dotted line.

The cliched notion that the customer is always right, along with that overwhelming feeling of fatigue, will often lead salespeople to acquiesce.

And sometimes the customer isn’t right. Sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes they’re actually working against their own long-term interests and don’t seem to know it.

You can’t just come out and say this, of course, unless you want to turn your careful negotiations into a conflict that threatens to blow the deal altogether.

Here’s what you can ask, though: Are there some other alternatives that you’d be open to consider?

When you tell a customer that there are alternatives, they’ll push back. It’s just human nature – you’re trying to get me to do something I don’t instinctively want to do.

To this day, though, I haven’t had a customer say to me, “No, I’m not interested in any alternatives.” When they are free to choose, at least in my experience, they will likely choose to hear you out.

The point here isn’t to start a fight you might be able to win. The point is to explore.

Maybe you’ll discover that the person you’ve been working with this whole time is actually a win-lose negotiator. The sort of client whose only vision of a good deal is when they get one over on you.

That’s the nightmare scenario and fortunately it’s rare. But when it does happen, it’s important to remember that it’s not one contract with one customer that’s going to make you successful.

Short-term pressures are real. But a successful sales career is based upon creating extraordinary experiences with customers that they enjoy, find trust building, want to do again, and will tell their friends about.

If your client is not that person, it might make sense to exit the transaction gracefully, painful as that might be. After all, with the benefit of hindsight, I bet every salesperson could identify one or more customers in 2022 who they would’ve fired if they’d known what was coming.

Either way, the ideal scenario isn’t a period of reflection that lets a client discover that you’re right and they’re wrong. It’s your best attempt to ask the right sorts of questions in the right sorts of ways so that both you and your customer know you’ve both made a well-informed decision with all the lights on.

You may be tired and eager to close. You may be thinking the customer is always right. But you owe it to yourself, and to them, to do a little diplomatic digging before the deal is signed.

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