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December 12, 2018 | Coach’s Corner | Greg Martinelli

Bite Your Tongue

Even when every bone in your body is telling you to scream out!

As a salesperson, learning how to bite your tongue will pay big dividends. However, it takes self-control and time to reap the benefits from keeping your mouth closed.

When to bite your tongue:

  • When a customer blames you for something that isn’t your fault
  • When a customer kicks you off their farm or out of their business
  • When a customer tells you, they are leaving you
  • When that former customer is rumored to have said bad things about you
  • When that former customer returns to do business with you
  • Even when your customer doesn’t bite theirs

Biting your tongue doesn’t mean remaining silent. It means don’t retaliate the way you really want to. When a customer has one of these outbursts, our temptation is to retaliate with our own outburst. We want to match their anger or negative energy or we want to set the record straight, in our opinion.

Here’s my advice and coaching: Don’t!

Instead, bite your tongue. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, bite your tongue. Let your customer finish. Allow them to leave you without your retaliation. This may sound like weakness or that you will be thought of as a pushover like you didn’t stand up for yourself. Maybe true, but biting your tongue allows that customer to return sooner. Meeting their anger with your own anger, just makes a bad situation worse. Additionally, your wayward customer might not actually carry out their threats. They might just be blowing off some steam at you and have no real intention of leaving you. When they calm down, they will realize your value and continue to buy from you. However, if you vented your own frustrations, you may have just made their return harder or longer to accomplish.

The reason I say all this is because I learned the hard way. The first customer that quit me, let me know in no uncertain terms how unhappy he was with me and my company. I “stuck up for me and my company”. I “set the record straight” with this dealer. Twelve years later, that customer returned. But only after another salesperson took over that area. I am convinced, he would have returned or better yet, never left if I handled it differently.

Several years later and wiser, I was kicked off a farm. This customer owed us money and my information was accurate. The customer knew it … but refused to agree with it. As I persisted, he got angrier, shouted and then told me to get the @#$% off his farm, along with my paperwork. Recognizing my previous mistakes, I bit my tongue. Leaving the farm that day, I agonized over how much I had done for this customer. I saved him time and money with my products and knowledge. I couldn’t believe he treated me this way. Four months later, he called. “Where have you been? How come you haven’t been out to quote me prices?” he asked, as if he never kicked me off the farm.

After receiving his phone call, I went back to the farm that I was kicked off just four months earlier. We went over pricing and he returned to me as a customer. We picked up right where we left off and never discussed the past. I continued to add value and he continued to appreciate that value. For the next five years, we had 100% of his business up until the day he passed away.

That’s not the end of the story! His kids took over the business and I continued to sell to them. Sitting down at lunch one day, his son began to recollect on that day his dad got angry with me and kicked me off the farm. Wanting to let it go, I mentioned that it was no big deal and “It happens”. His son continued to tell me how bad his dad felt after treating me that way but truly didn’t think he owed us the money. His dad told him how he understood that I was just doing my job of collecting on the account and didn’t deserve to be yelled at. Emotions overcame him and he felt bad about it. He respected how I reacted to the situation and he respected that I returned to sell him without retaliation or an “I told you so” attitude.

If you are naturally a reactive person and you “wear your emotions on your sleeve”, then take extra precautions to bite your tongue. Recognize your tendency and prepare for those customer interactions that might become volatile. I knew collecting on an account was a volatile topic and I was prepared that day to remain calm. Quite different than several years earlier when my dealer quit me and I failed to keep my mouth shut.

Good luck and enjoy the benefits of biting your tongue, even when every bone in your body is telling you to scream out!

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