6 tips for delivering bad news to customers

Sales reps - delivering the bad news challenge

Sales reps – delivering the bad news challenge

Delivering bad news to customers – not something that makes a salesperson’s day.  But it would be unrealistic to think that it is not part of the job.

Whether it’s the inability to provide the added value promised to a physician, like participating in a clinical trial, or not being able to offer the price discount you mentioned, or the failure to meet that delivery date promised to the VP of Logistics, all salespeople face the delivering bad news challenge.

Regardless of how bad the bad news – part of becoming a top sales performer is learning how to deliver bad news skillfully.

Geoffrey Tumlin addressed this challenge from the perspective of delivering bad news to employees.  We thought Tumlin’s points were applicable to Sales, so we did a little translation and added a couple of additional ideas to compile six tips for sales reps who are faced with the bad news delivery challenge.

  • Be clear and concise. Whatever the bad message, sugarcoating won’t make it easier for the customer to swallow and it might even confuse them.
  • Explain yourself, but not too much. The simpler the better – if you can say it in one sentence that would be great.  Don’t add secondary information or a laundry list of reasons why something bad occurred. It just extends the conversation and more often than not, muddles it.
  • Illustrate that you are on top of the problem.  Explain what you have and will do to minimize the bad news reoccurring.
  • Take responsibility.  Assume personal responsibility for what happened – don’t pass the buck to someone else on the sales or project team. 
  • Remember timeliness matters.  Get to the customer with the bad news as soon as you can – postponing bad news delivery is a bad idea.
  • Document good news.  Don’t forget bad news documents itself – good news doesn’t – so make sure you document good news.

Most customers realize when it comes to purchasing and implementing complex B2B solutions, hiccups happen.  The key for sales reps is to skillfully handle the bad news so that it doesn’t impact long-term customer relationships.

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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