Years ago when I was working in PR, I went into a meeting with a client. My boss and I were supposed to talk to this person together, but at the last minute my boss wasn’t going to make it.
I got to the meeting, and quickly found out why my boss had bailed out. Turns out, the client was unhappy. Very unhappy. Apparently we had tried to do a series of ads for them that had flopped, and I was here to answer for that failure.
So I walked into the meeting room, and proceeded to get chewed out by a justifiably upset buyer. He was frustrated by the lack of results, and asked me what would happen if we botched the next project he gave us.
My response? “If you don’t like the work, don’t pay for it.”
“No, seriously. What am I supposed to do if the work you produce for us doesn’t get results?”
“I mean it. If you don’t like the work, don’t pay for it.”
Keep in mind I was going out on a limb here. Yes, I had the authority to write off bills if required. But write-offs would have hurt my standing and reputation within the agency, and if clients started thinking they didn’t have to pay our bills, it could be open season on me and my agency.
Still, as far as I was concerned, it was better to have a customer than a sale. I’d rather someone tell me they were dissatisfied so we could work to fix it than simply get the payment and never hear from that client again.
Not long after I said that, the meeting ended and I went back to the office. I wasn’t at my desk five minutes before my boss came out to have a word with me.
“What exactly did you say to him in that meeting?”
Before I got a chance to tell my boss what I’d said, he continued.
“Whatever you said, that guy loved it! He just called, he wanted you to come back next week to talk about a new project he wants us to take on!”
I learned something critical that day. Of course you want your customers to trust you. But sometimes in order for that to happen, you have to trust your customer by, essentially, putting yourself at their mercy. When I told our client that he shouldn’t pay for the work if he didn’t like it, I was telling him that getting results was more important to me than getting his money. From that point on, he felt like he could trust me enough not to try to rip him off. Being able to recognize what it takes to earn a buyer’s trust helped make that meeting a defining moment in my career.
Michael Boyette was the executive editor of the Rapid Learning Institute Selling Essentials e-learning site.