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How to Deal with a Rude Prospect

I still cringe when I think back to the time I walked into a scheduled meeting with a prospect (a healthcare practitioner), with lunch in hand for him and his medical assistant, only to find myself being treated rudely by them both.

They gladly dove into the lunch I brought but seemed annoyed when I started to ask them questions about their practice and the health conditions their patients were presenting with.

Mind you, they knew very well when I scheduled the meeting that I represented a highly regarded line of nutritional supplements that could help their patients get better clinical outcomes. It was also clear from the products on their shelves that nutritional supplements played an important role in their clinic.

But in their eyes, I was guilty of one major crime: I was a salesperson. Evidently, I was so guilty of being a salesperson, they weren’t going to let me off the hook. So they accepted the meeting, and while they devoured the burritos they requested for lunch, they hung me out to dry.

Tina Fey looking offended
How to Deal with a Rude Prospect

Every question I asked was met with near-disdain. Every. Single. One. After 15 painful minutes of this, the practitioner asked to see a catalog and started asking me questions about random products while he flipped through the pages and smacked on his burrito.

Now he was driving the meeting, and I was reactively offering up answers that I hoped he would like.

To my bewilderment, he ended up placing a small order before I slunk out the door, but no order could make up for the lack of dignity I felt.

As unpleasant as it was, I learned a ton from that day.

Recently a couple of my coaching clients have experienced similar scenarios, so I've been able to fully empathize and guide them through the following points.

1. Be sure to qualify your prospects. My coaching clients have done their homework, so they can feel confident knowing their prospects could be a good fit, at least on paper.

2. Own your value. If you represent a product or service that can improve the lives of your customer base, and if you’re dedicated to bringing the best solution and insights to your prospects, hold your head high. You are guilty of nothing, regardless of whether you’re making a cold call or showing up for a scheduled meeting. As long as your intention is to bring value (not just to reach your quota), you are a sales professional, not “just a sales rep.”

3. Address the unpleasant tone directly—but non-defensively—with one of these key phrases:

a. If they’re dismissive: “Can we pause for a minute here? I’m realizing this may not be a fit for you even though my research said it would be. Am I off-base?” You may actually find that they enroll themselves by countering your statement with how your product can suit them.

b. If they’re rushed and distracted: “I’m sensing you’re crunched for time today. Let’s reschedule for a time that works better for you.”

c. If they’re down-right rude: “It sounds like we should probably wrap this up so we can both get on with our day. Thank you for your time.”

4. All of the above will come much easier to you when you embrace an Abundance Mindset. What this means is that if you think your prospects are scarce, you run the risk of allowing those few to treat you rudely. Instead, if you relax and have the knowledge that there are plenty of prospects out there, you won’t cling to a few hoping to make a sale. Just move on. Create the time and space for prospects who are qualified and who appreciate you—and be sure to follow up with them as consistently as possible.

Once you’re out of the situation, and before you move on, reflect on the following questions so you can learn as much as possible:

1. Did I properly qualify this prospect before approaching them?

2. Was there anything I said or did to put this prospect on the defensive?

3. What were the external factors beyond my control?

4. How can I let this go so it doesn’t affect the rest of my day?

When I was in the field, the vast majority of my interactions with prospects were enjoyable and fruitful. But the cringey meeting I described above clearly stuck with me and provided some valuable lessons. I hope you don’t have to go through the same situation, but if you do, try the tips above.



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