Don’t argue in front of your customer!

We’ve all been there. You’re in a meeting with a prospect or customer and someone on your team says the wrong thing. You’re infuriated and your knee jerk reaction is to correct your teammate in front of the customer. Or get angry with your teammate. Not a good idea.

This can happen when you take a junior engineer into a meeting and she feels she has to tell the customer everything that’s wrong with the product. Or a senior executive who commits you to a schedule you know you can’t make. Or a loser sales person who can’t stop talking. Or a hungry, skilled sales person who is trying to pull a deal in earlier than you think makes sense. Or a tired customer support person who is down a cynical rat hole.

When these things happen, or the thousand other ways you can see the wrong thing being said in front of the customer it’s up to you to keep a cool head and manage through without getting angry or embarrassing your teammate in front of the customer. A customer is in the room with you to get as much out of you as he or she can to solve their problem. They don’t want to know about your problems. And they certainly don’t want you to air your relationship dirty laundry in front of them.

So how can you prevent or manage this?

First prepare. Hold a prep meeting and try to anticipate the issues and questions that may come up. Be as clear as you can what the pot holes could be and who is playing what role in the meeting.

Then, if your teammate is saying something you know is wrong, try to deflect by going on a tangent. Don’t say “John is wrong… we can’t commit to that”, instead ask a question of the customer to take the conversation in another direction.

If you are still on the wrong track let the issue go unless it is going to seriously damage your project or company’s future. There are not many issues discussed which can’t be changed with a follow up conversation. “I know John committed XYZ to you but when we got back to the office and did some more digging we realized XYZ is not the right answer (timing, service etc) for you.” Customers do that to vendors all the time!

And finally be sure to debrief with your team. Great coordination in front of the customer comes with practice, practice working together as a team. Learning who should speak on what issue, who has command of what topic. You won’t get it right the first time you work with your team, but over time you’ll build the muscle memory to navigate tough issues in front of the customer. But in the meantime, don’t disagree in front of her!

Photo: Tapestry in Sevilla, Spain © 2018 Penny Herscher