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Under Attack? Fall Back


What do you do when a buyer or a prospective buyer says something aggressive or confrontational?

What’s your very first instinct? How often do you act on that instinct? What happens when you do?

Perhaps your instinct is some version of “Push back.” It’s human nature to want to defend yourself, especially if you feel strongly that there’s some factual error or misunderstanding behind what the other person is saying. But if you’re a true sales professional, you will set aside the urge to fight back … and you will choose instead to fall back.

That’s counterintuitive, of course. We’re human beings. If we feel we’re under attack, we usually feel entitled to defend ourselves. Let’s say our spouse or partner says something like, “Why do you always leave the kitchen such a mess?” In that situation, we might be inclined to give a knee-jerk response like “Well. Why do you use the word ‘always’ – when you know full well that I am the one who loads the dishwasher every night?”

But is that the best response?

All a return volley is going to do is perpetuate the conflict cycle. You’re going to find yourself stuck in a downbound spiral. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who’s going to send up the white flag of surrender first? You defend. They defend. It escalates.

It’s all too easy to get hooked into a cycle of conflict. Even though that’s true, a cycle of knee-jerk escalation is not the dynamic you want to reinforce with your partner. And it’s definitely not the dynamic you want to reinforce during an interaction with a prospective buyer.

Fortunately, there is a better way: find something you can own, own it, and move on.

Suppose the prospective buyer tells you, “Your organization has lousy customer service. I was on hold for forty minutes the other day. You guys have a lot of nerve calling yourself a customer-first company.”

What would happen if, instead of defending yourself and your company – by, for instance, talking about all the customer-service awards your team has won – you said something like this:

“I’m sorry you had to wait that long. That sounds like a problem we need to investigate. I’m going to mention it to the team during our next weekly meeting so we can look at why that happened. In the meantime, here’s my cell number. You can always reach out to me personally, and if I can’t address the problem for you, I know I can find someone who will.”

Forget about right and wrong. Forget about whose fault it is or isn’t. That’s not an effective way to communicate with the buyer. Fall back! Find something you can take ownership of and own it!

Usually, a remarkable thing happens once you make the decision to take ownership: people stop attacking you!

The whole dynamic changes. You’re no longer trying to top each other. The conflict runs out of steam. And as it does, you can redirect the dialogue back toward some more productive line of conversation.

Never forget: We are the salespeople in this discussion. It’s not the buyer’s job to accommodate our communication style. It’s our job to accommodate their communication style. Sometimes, that means modeling grownup behavior when they’ve lost sight, temporarily, of how to do that. So: keep your ego out of the sales process. Don’t defend. Don’t justify. Instead, take ownership of the problem and fall back!

Randy Gangaloo

Randy Gangaloo

Founder & CEO | Sandler Training | Breakthrough Selling, Inc