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What If a Customer Badmouths You?

The Situation

Darius sells precious gems to jewelry stores. One of his prospects, Jane, is a buyer for a small chain of mall stores. Jane was scheduled to attend a gems and jewelry trade show, but Darius could not attend. Fortunately (or so he thought), one of his good customers would be at the show.

Darius asked Jane to meet up with this customer and chat about Darius’ company. Darius was sure the customer would give a glowing recommendation.

The Best Laid Plans

When Darius saw Jane after her return, she reported that the customer said he really liked Darius’ merchandise and service. However, the customer said that as a supplier, Darius’s firm doesn’t come cheap. He added that Darius’ company had two price increases within a year.

How to Handle the Complaint

Uh-oh. Darius is embarrassed by this “testimonial.” He realizes he will have to do damage control. In terms of a Q4 selling strategy, which course of action is his best move?

  1. Darius should contact this customer and point out that his facts are incorrect. He can ask the customer to talk to Jane, repairing the damage caused by his negative (and incorrect) remark.
  2. Quickly explaining to Jane that the customer had his facts wrong and that his complaints were unfounded, it’s important that Darius correct any bad impression.
  3. When Jane mentions the pricing remark, Darius should respond the same way he would manage any objection in a sales call. He should be relaxed, but ask Jane about possible price concerns in light of what she heard.
  4. Darius should arrange for Jane to talk to three other customers who have no negative attitudes about pricing, to prove it’s not a problem.


Choices A and D, in which Darius tries to arrange for his customers to correct Jane’s impression, seems kind of panicky. As Shakespeare said, “Methinks you doth protest too much.” Jane may sense that the whole exercise feels Q1 manipulative.


It would also be awkward for Darius to explain to good customers what happened. It could put them in the odd position of doing Darius’ selling for him. Worse, if current customers start questioning his pricing, it could do more harm than good. If the customer who spoke to Jane has his facts wrong, Darius certainly should talk to him. But that customer should not be further enlisted.


Answer B would come across as defensive. Darius would be doing all the talking — and to Jane, it might feel like fast talking. It may be important that Jane understand if this customer had his facts incorrect. But the way to address a negative like this is to remain Q4 collaborative and let Jane react by probing.


Thus, Answer C is the way to go. Darius should discuss this incident with Jane by applying the APAC method of meeting any customer objection: engaging in a dialogue that focuses on Jane in a Q4 way. While it’s not really Jane’s objection, she has put the pricing issue on the table.


Applying APAC

Do you remember APAC?

  • Acknowledge
  • Probe
  • Answer
  • Confirm

First, Darius should Acknowledge the issue Jane mentions, not deflect or Q2 it. Jane may be concerned that Darius could lowball her to get her business but raise his prices soon thereafter. He needs to be open with her.


Then, Darius should Probe to discover Jane’s mindset and whether it could affect her buying decision.


Next, Darius can Answer Jane’s concerns. His facts and customer references can play a part in addressing the issue. But having a discussion is so much more collaborative than Darius tap-dancing to counteract a negative.


Finally, if Darius has done a good job of showing Q4 directness and really involving the prospect, he can Confirm with Jane that she is satisfied with his answer, so that this incident will not be a stumbling block.


Anytime a prospect or customer brings up a negative — even one from another customer — don’t overreact. Use APAC to calmly deal with the issue and directly answer it until the other person is satisfied. Emphasize your candor and focus on the other person’s concerns.