In old school selling, we were always taught that the customer is always right. But are they really? Last time I checked, customers are comprised of individuals. Every day average Joes like you and me. And I make a lot of mistakes (which is often reinforced by my wife).

If you have been selling for any decent period of time, you are bound to run into a prospect who you really like and want to do business with, but whom you have found to be outright clueless, undereducated, highly opinionated, and most dangerous of all – extremely short sighted.

It has been said that price is typically an issue when there is an absence of perceived value. But how do you deal with bureaucracy? What about decisions by committee or worse yet, the decision to remain with the status quo? When memos and meetings are the currency of the realm, how do you cut through the clutter to elevate the conversation to value-based and strategic vs. the mundane and minutia? If you bring efficiency and effectiveness to an organization that simply is not capable of executing on those world class best practices, then what?

At that point, you basically have three choices:

1. Put your conscience aside and make the sale. After all, it’s not your fault that they are completely lost and there are no lights on. The problem here is that, similar to an addiction, dysfunctional teams and organizations need to have the bottom drop out to see that as a wake-up call. They are often so screwed up that your misguided solution can’t possibly be to blame for their downfall. Let’s be honest – isn’t that like giving a drink to an alcoholic or a cigarette to someone who is trying to quit smoking?

2. Recommend the hard to swallow, necessary changes. Even at the risk of losing the sale, you are taking the high road to educate them on not just what is happening but why and the fact that they themselves are the primary culprit in this perfect storm. If they choose to follow your recommendation, you often become the hero. And that efficiency and effectiveness may actually convince a customer to remain around considerably longer than if you had not intervened. On the other hand, if the prospect is off the deep end, making the recommendation can very well be a lost cause and you may be wasting everyone’s time.

3. Politely, diligently walk away. This is the Relationship Economics option. Even if they buy your product or service, how can the relationship possibly benefit when they fail? By gracefully explaining that you are simply uncertain about whether or not you can help, you establish trust, which far outweighs any single transaction. Your leadership team may not agree – especially at the end of the quarter when you desperately need that deal – but the fundamental difference between a transaction and a transformation is one that is enabled by trust-centered relationships.

It is easy to sit on the sideline and contemplate which choice you should make. The real question is which choice you will make next time you are in this situation.

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