The Power of Reverse Psychology

Thursday, May 11, 2017

One of the most under used and perhaps under rated techniques that all sales reps have in their bag is the power of reverse psychology. When I refer to this, I do not mean the art of manipulating a customer, but rather the ability to help a customer see a bigger picture that will lead you to a sale and a long lasting customer relationship.

Let me use an example to illustrate what I mean. I work for a company that sells a product to their customers for a 3 year term. After the 3 year term, we go back into that customer and try and get them to sign up for another 3 years. Typically we do quite well and have somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% renewal rate.

We had a big customer that was neglected for a whole three years. They had 4 different reps over that period of time, none of which spent much time with them. And to make matters worse, our company had just bought a company that competed with a subset of their product offering. I was given the job of going in and “fixing” the mess as it was called and renewing this contract.

The first meeting I had with them, did not start out very well. I had just begun my presentation about the 2 options that they had for renewal, when I was cut off and told in no uncertain terms that they would not be renewing their contract. They then began to spend the next 10 minutes telling me everything that was wrong with my company and why they would begin to migrate to our competitors’ products and services. I remember sitting there and thinking to myself, “oh boy if I don’t find a way to get them beyond this, we are in a whole heap of trouble”.

After I listened intently, I began the process of reverse psychology. “Listen, I understand that my company has not treated you how you deserve and if I were you I would do the same thing. It is for this reason that I will present you with Option 3, the do nothing Option. You have the rights to our current product set, I suggest you stay at that level for the next 2 or 3 years and we can re-evaluate your technology needs in the future. This way you do not continue to pay us money, for something that we are not helping you use or get the most out of. I only want to ensure that you are able to utilize our products and services and get a return for your business. If we cannot do that, we do not deserve your business.”

You should have seen the reaction to this in the room. My colleague who was in the room and who was counting on his renewal commissions was about ready to jump across the table and choke me, but for me the most important thing to watch was the customer. There were 4 representatives from them in the room. I’m sure they had prepared for this meeting, they were prepared with who was going to play which role and what they were going to tell us about why they would not renew. When we entered the room their body language was hostile, they were all on edge and not one of them had a warm look on their face. As soon as I said this, I watched their reactions. They all sat back in their chairs, they relaxed, they had won after all. I had as much as admitted defeat.

This is when I used the following line. “I only ask one thing for option 3 and one thing only. We may not have treated you like one, but you have been a good customer to us for the last 3 years. I ask that you spend a little time with me over the next couple of weeks and allow me to go through the financials of the decision to do nothing. I want to make sure that your business case for not renewing is solid, so that no one can come back to you in the future and say that you made a bad decision, that you cost your company more money in the long run. Is that fair to ask?”

There was not one of them in the room that did not feel that was a fair ask by me. So over the next 4 to 6 weeks, I spent time with them, not telling them why they should renew, but telling them why they shouldn’t renew. You want to know the amazing part? They actually began attacking and finding flaws in my reasons for them not to renew. And after this time, the discussions turned from not renewing, to renewing only if they saved at least 10% over what they were spending in the past. The final result was that we not only resigned this customer, but we found a way to partner with them, we helped them grow their business and they signed a new contract with us that was double what their old one was.

Some people will say that I did manipulate them. I do not think that personally. I used an old trick that my parents used to use on me when I was a kid. Tell me what I wanted to hear and then use reasoning to convince me that what I wanted to hear wasn’t right. They never told me that it was wrong, as I never told my customer that it was wrong. They would lead the horse to water and allow me to make my own conclusions. It’s a powerful trick that when employed correctly can lead to great results. Oh yeah and that customer, their 3 year renewal just passed again. This time our conversation was a lot better, and we renewed them again.

Mike Austin is a sales professional who has successful negotiating with many of the fortune 500 companies. He has a proven track record of delighting his customers, growing sales in new and existing territories and is a co-founder of http://www.ChallengingCustomer.com

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