The worst kind of client and how to deal with them

Some clients know very little about what you do and they put their trust in you. These are great clients to work for because a lot of the relationship is built as you prove your value and educate them.

And some clients know a lot about what you do and are pretty easy to help because they eliminate a lot of the legwork. Everything clicks because you communicate as peers and they can move through your sales funnel pretty quickly.

These are great clients to have.

But the worst kind of client thinks they know what they’re talking about (but really doesn’t know what they’re talking about). They have just enough financial or real estate knowledge to dazzle their friends, and they expect their financial or real estate professional to be dazzled too.

Maybe you’ve met a client like this.

It happened to me. Years ago, when I was working at a leasing company, I had a meeting with a client who felt I didn’t know as much as he did about the industry and he “educated” me. Unfortunately, I knew what he was saying was wrong but I didn’t know how to correct him.

With frustration and regret, I’ve thought a lot about that meeting since then. It really bothered me that the client felt smugly superior. More importantly, it bothered me that I didn’t know how to respond to his inaccurate knowledge. Here’s what I’ve learned since that meeting, and here’s how you can handle these clients when you meet them.

HOW TO RECOGNIZE THESE CUSTOMERS

In the example I gave above from my early leasing career, the client I met with was smug in his inaccurate knowledge. But not all of these “worst kind of clients” are smug. Some of them are just plain fooled because they know a bit but it’s quite a bit more than their friends and family know. Financial professionals see this all the time with people who dabble in the stock market: They know a bit more than their neighbors so it seems like they know a lot more. But the reality is, they’re just dabblers.

You can recognize these customers pretty easily in conversation. They have a confidence in their knowledge that might (at first) make them seem like they know a lot. But further conversation will reveal that they know less than they think they know.

HOW TO DEAL WITH THESE CLIENTS

Here are some tips on how to deal with these clients.

  • Acknowledge that they know what they are talking about, even if they think they know more than they do.

  • Take the approach of working with these, alongside them, shoulder-to-shoulder. Treat them as you would treat a peer. Talk to them as you would talk to a colleague — informally yet professionally as if you are both insiders.

  • Refer to your relationship as “working together”. You’ll put them on your side by making them feel like they are equal to you.

  • Avoid colloquialisms and acronyms and the conversational short-cuts you use when talking to your colleagues. Spell everything out.

  • Don’t ask for their opinion. If they give their opinion, acknowledge it. If you disagree, use a phrase like, “That’s an interesting experience. I’ve encountered a different outcome from a similar situation”. (Be genuine! Don’t be condescending!)

  • Don’t call them on their ignorance! The worst thing you can do is push them a little to reveal how little they know. It will humiliate and anger them and you’ll lose a client.

  • Use phrases like “as you know” or “as I’m sure you’re aware”.

  • Go into extra detail to help these customers connect what they do know with what you want them to know. If they talk about small cap stocks but don’t know what “cap” means, take a moment to talk about market capitalization and the different kinds of -cap stocks. But again, do it in a way that helps them to feel like equals.

  • Provide educational materials and training content but position the information by saying: “You probably know the material covered here but there might be something in here that will fill any gaps you might have simply because you don’t deal with this information 24/7.”

In summary, take a specific approach them where you acknowledge what they do know and make them feel good about it; then build on it with more information.

And, be sure to stand your ground in situations where they might smugly try to educate you. You can be professional about it by taking charge of the conversation and saying something like, “I have a different perspective.”

WHAT TO DO IF NONE OF THIS WORKS

Not every client/professional relationship is destined for greatness. That’s okay. As a financial or real estate professional, you owe it to yourself to determine who you should and should not work with and then stick to those parameters. For more information about firing your clients if you need to, check out my blog post Breaking up is hard to do: Why businesses need to occasionally fire clients.

Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and he's a real estate investor and a copywriter for real estate investors.

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