Medical sales reps see all kinds of clients in the field –new clients, returning clients, reluctant clients, busy clients, outgoing clients, too-busy clients, toxic clients. Your sales reps even expect a certain amount of guardedness from clients, but rudeness is not a response to take lightly.
The mental well-being of sales reps is critical to their success in their professional and personal lives. An unhealthy client relationship can break your sales reps’ confidence and lead to burnout, very quickly affecting their performance in all other areas of their lives. It’s up to you to ensure medical sales reps are protected and prepared to handle the occasional toxic client.
Here are the most important steps you can take to keep sales reps mentally and emotionally protected:
Medical sales reps may need your encouragement and help with drawing boundaries with clients. It’s one thing when you educate your team on harassment and workplace bullying. They know there are guidelines to follow in respecting peers and superiors and they understand what steps to take when those lines are crossed. But dealing with hostile or disrespectful clients can be tricky.
Naturally, your sales reps do not want to jeopardize an important client account, so they may hesitate to communicate that they are dealing with emotional distress on certain sales calls. Your team needs to know you expect their engagement with customers to be just as respectful and professional as you demand of their treatment of each other. That means they should report offensive behavior from toxic clients to you regardless of whether the particular conditions have been outlined in their training.
With that said, you need to discuss with your team what kind of client behaviors will not be tolerated by your company and what reps can do when they encounter poor treatment by customers. For example, insults directly or indirectly targeting someone’s culture, race, gender identity or sexual orientation can be immensely damaging to your reps’ well-being. While everyone’s ability to cope with negative comments may differ, reps should know that where they draw their line is what matters and you will support them.
Educate your team
Of course, you don’t want your sales reps retaliating when toxic clients cross their boundaries so you need to educate everyone on the correct way to respond to poor client relations. Similar to the training you provide to keep peace in the workplace and protect sales reps from bullying, your team needs an action plan if clients insult or harass them.
If you need to keep the client account open and the circumstances seem to be isolated to a specific sales rep, it could be possible to replace the sales rep on that account. However, it’s important to ensure that reps know if an account needs to be terminated based on a customer’s treatment of your sales reps, there are not going to be repercussions. It should be evident your first concern is their well-being. This ensures reps will be honest if their relationships with clients are unhealthy.
A few ways you can equip your sales reps with the tools they need to handle toxic clients in the moment can include:
- Choose words carefully – sales reps should find passive ways to remove themselves from the situation by choosing their words carefully
- Acknowledge but don’t agree – if clients are using hurtful words because they are not happy with a product or device, etc., sales reps should simply acknowledge their concerns but don’t agree (or disagree) to avoid fueling their frustration
- Add FroMLE – this technique is a great way to diffuse the situation in your mind. Advise reps to add “From my limited experience” to whatever insulting phrase the client has stated in their minds. In that moment, it’s going to de-escalate their immediate response.
- Recognize personality conflicts – reps should go with their gut. If they run into a situation where personalities clash and the sales experience is clearly uncomfortable for both parties, they should feel comfortable handing off the account
- Get out – if a client is unbearably offensive, the best thing to do is get out. Guide sales reps on the most appropriate ways to cut a sales call short and remove themselves from the conversation. They should also immediately report these incidents to you or another member of your leadership team immediately.
Advocate for sales reps
There is a common misconception that has preceded sales reps for decades, “The customer is always right.”
The truth is, sometimes the customer is prejudiced or racist or just plain rude. That doesn’t mean reps should be incapable of discerning between a poor taste joke and a direct insult. Your customers are human. They have flaws and misjudgments just like anyone else. But sales reps should not be forced to believe they need to subject themselves to an unhealthy relationship to make the sale.
You also need to make it clear in situations when a client raises concern over an issue with a sales rep, that certain biases or poor treatment of sales reps will not be tolerated. For example, you may want to consider how important a client account really is if a customer confides they would like another salesperson due to personal attributes such as race or sexual identity, etc.
Sometimes, the best decision to make for everyone is to distance your team from difficult clients. Most importantly, your team should always know you have their backs and you believe in and support them in their success. Their mental well-being and personal identity are not expendable for the sake of sales numbers.