Triangulating Customer Reactions


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How reps can navigate negative attitudes and responses in client conversations.

Although we are just a few years into this decade, it looks like 2020-29 may go down as the decade of negativity. Political friction, the pandemic, the supply chain, the Great Resignation, inflation, and the potential recession have all contributed to an increase in negative attitudes.

So, no matter how skillful your sales presentation, in today’s environment you are likely to encounter negative reactions. When dealing with negative attitudes, you must stay focused on your goal and realize the customers with negative attitudes are usually not rejecting you or your goal.

In most cases, the customer’s negativity is directed at the plan or strategy for achieving that goal. In other words, they are resisting “it” (the plan/strategy) and not you. If you look at negative attitudes in this manner, you can maintain the confidence necessary to acknowledge the customer’s point of view and align with even the most emotional negative attitudes.

Take out the “you”

When responding to customers who are negative, instead of saying “I know how you feel,” “You sound frustrated” or “You seem skeptical,” take the “you” out of the response and refer to the issue or situation. Use phrases such as “that appears to be a problem,” “it can be frustrating,” or “skepticism is perfectly understandable.”

Switching pronouns from “you” to “it,” “that,” or “this” may seem like a small thing now, but in a sales leadership interaction, this simple act is extremely powerful in helping your customers separate themselves from the problem at hand. Utilizing terms such as “I” and “you” often create a competitive win/lose battle by causing problems to become internalized.

“If I can prove my point, will you drop yours” is a terrible sales strategy and a game no customer wants to play.

Using an impersonal pronoun puts the focus on the issues and concerns. Instead of problems becoming people problems, you turn all issues and problems into an “it.” By removing “you” from the discussion, all issues and problems become impersonal and aligning begins – you and your customer versus “it.”


Consider these triangulated examples:


DVM: “Why bother? At my age, I’m not interested in increasing my workload or adding staff.”

Rep: Sounds like that isn’t a priority. What are the priorities at this moment in time?


DVM: “We tried educating about preventives and it hasn’t increased the compliance numbers.”

Rep: It’s disappointing when education doesn’t help. So, let’s look at other ways some of my customers have positively increased compliance and determine if they might work for you.


DVM: “I’d be real uncomfortable investing a lot of money in a new marketing campaign. What if it doesn’t work and we sunk all that money into it?”

Rep: It appears that could be a risky situation, so let’s explore some ways to mitigate the risk.


DVM: “I’m not cutting my margin just to keep a few price shoppers. Let them go to Walmart.”

Rep: Got it. Margins are important, so let’s stop here and explore the options for protecting the pharmacy business without drastically impacting margins.


DVM: “You’re going to have to prove to me that virtual care is first effective and second that it actually improves a practice before I commit to using it.”

Rep: Looks like more proof is needed before proceeding and that is fine. Let’s review the performance of some of the hospitals that have implemented virtual care then determine if it would work in this hospital.


Working with a full range of reactions

Effective sales leaders are skillful at working with the full range of customer reactions, and it is certainly easier to do business with customers open or positively inclined at the onset of the discussion. However, the most successful sales leaders can influence conversations even when they start or turn negative.

Your personal and professional success hinges on your ability to align with Neglect, Complain, Avoid, Stop and Challenge as competently as you do with Neutral, Study, Continue, Play and Commit.

Triangulating is a key component of that competency. Try it and find out for yourself.



Patrick T. Malone

Patrick T. Malone is a business advisor and leadership mentor based in Taylors, South Carolina. He is the co-author of the best-selling business book “Cracking the Code to Leadership” and may be reached at [email protected] or 404-630-7504.


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