Improper Racial Comments From Your Customers? It Does Happen!

It doesn’t matter what color or nationality you are, invariably it will happen no matter what minority group you represent.  With all of the good customers in the world, there are some who just have no filter on what they should say.  We could recognize their ignorance, but more importantly you should know how to deal with these situations.  Always be prepared!

___________________________

Customers come from all walks of life, and certainly have their goods and bads, but we cannot live without them in the sales world.  They are human, and with that in mind, are capable of saying things that are subject to translation, and sometimes downright wrong and insulting.

This post covers how you might react to those comments, or better yet, how you might better react to those comments.  Remember, just as we stated in Black Sales Journal August 22,2011, Reacting to Improper Racial Comments from Co-workers and Black Sales Journal 8/29/2011, Reacting to Improper Racial Comments from Managers, which covered how you might react to statements from co-workers and from your manager, you have the right to react, I am just suggesting to you do so in a professional manner.

Just because someone is doing business with you does not mean that they can say things that are demeaning or even cruel without a formidable response.

Intent Does Count!

Before we get deep into this, I would like to point out that intent does count.  I would like to explain that there are intentionally harmful racial comments that are made with malice, and racial comments that are made in ignorance.  Although neither of these should be considered acceptable, and they both probably warrant a reply, the requisite responses might need to differ.

Statements that are made because one is ignorant or one is unenlightened obviously have the same effect, yet have less gravity than a statement meant to harm by some one who is rude and insensitive.  Here are a couple of examples:

Statement A: During a business meeting your customer talked about safety in the area that his business is located. He says with a smile… “They say that one of your brothers pulled off the robbery of that fast food joint down the street last night.”

Statement B: During a dinner entertainment session, your buyer indicates she needs to terminate a Hispanic employee “who is still wet from the swim across because of the new immigration laws.”

Both statements are offensive, and both deserve a response.  Which statement is, in your view, is the most racially charged?  How would you react to each of these?

Always be calculated in your response and consider the intent.  I will discuss how I would respond in a moment.  First I want to acquaint you with a personal situation and how I handled it.

A Personal Example

When I was in sales, many of my customers were owners of trucking companies.  This industry, like many others has people that say what is on their mind, and sometimes what is on their mind can be disparaging.  In the instance that I am about to cite, I definitely responded incorrectly the first time, by not responding.  When the second time came around, I think I definitely handled it in the correct manner.

I was on a call basically to deliver policies to the account and we got involved in a conversation about a driver who had generated a lower back workers compensation claim.  Everyone knows that lower back claims can be subjective, and tend to linger for long periods.

During the call my customer indicated that we should investigate the claim of Ben T.  He stated that he had reason to believe that Ben was malingering, and it was our job to get to the root of it and make sure that the claim was compensable, and that payments should be stopped until we knew for sure.  He then said, “You have a good work ethic, and I wish all of your people had that same work ethic.”

I was a 26 year old sales professional and initially, my response was to say nothing other than that I would check it out.  I thought I needed the client, and needed my money.  I realized within minutes that my response was wrong. It kept me up at night for a little bit, and relived it several times.

When I returned to the customer location the following week, I explained to him the situation behind the back claim.  This individual was going to undergo surgery and his claim was legitimate to our people.  I then sat with him, looked him in the eye and said, “Respectfully Bob, I take offense to your comments last week about Ben T. and work ethic.” He developed a puzzled look and quickly said, “I did not mean to offend you Michael.” I then advised the following, “I know you did not mean to offend me, as we speak openly, yet you offended a whole community of people, of which I am one.  It would have been the same as if I said that you are special, but most of your people are drunkards (Bob was Irish). It was frankly just wrong.”

A light bulb went on in Bob’s head.  I could see it happen… enlightenment, that is.  Bob said, “Point taken, but we Irish like to drink!”  I quickly responded, “You do get my point, don’t you?”  We smiled and wecompleted the meeting.

Back to Our Questions

Well, both situations are enough to of these statements are bothersome, and unfortunately situations like this happen in the workplace frequently.

Regarding Statement A: This is the least charged, as this person is attempting to refer to a felon as a ‘brother’ presumably because we often call Black people ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.  It should not have been said but you would not have to use a nuclear bomb on this one.  Your response should be simple and professional, “Respectfully, no one who would do that is a brother of mine.”  Remember, this is a customer.

Regarding Statement B: This is a racially charged statement.  You might hesitate to respond to it, yet the races are interchangeable in this case.  If you do not respond, I suppose you would be waiting until this customer got around to taking a ‘shot’ at African Americans  next.  An improper remark against any group or religion is an attack on your diversity.  Your response should be professional and impactful.  Something like, “Kristin, honestly I take offense to that statement.”  She knows it was wrong and if she is worth her salt she will not make another one like it.

Respect your principals.  I am not saying that you should not work with a customer as much as you need to be true to yourself.

Always be true to yourself.  Always be the professional.

Your comments are appreciated.  Read me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.

The Dreaded Mid-Term Performance Review

It is that time again! This post is for all of those professionals, and sales professionals, who are concerned about their mid-term review. The performance review can be a stressful event, a difficult time for many.

Many of us have been there before, and thus the need for this post.  A tough interim or mid-term review is sobering, and if you are in sales it is easy to have a couple of tough quarters.  The importance of this is apparent when it gets to writing.  Use this post, to prepare for this important upcoming event, or to respond to a difficult mid term that has already happened.

Are you currently on a performance program? Remember, you must be on top of your game, and working all of the time.  You might refer to BSJ 4/30/2011, Are You on A Sales Performance Program? Can You Beat it?

Remember, this is the mid-term, and there is some time left to get goals, but you must do something different, or the results will be the same. This post was from last July but applies now as much as any interm period.

Never give up!

____________________________

If you are with a fairly large organization, you have probably recently experienced an interim or mid-term review.  As trite as it sounds, you knew it was coming; yet it is one of the least enjoyable activities for a sales professional.  Having someone tell you where you stand in comparison to a goal that you had no choice but  agree to.

Historically, that is the nature of sales.  Review Black Sales Journal – 1/10 Preparing for the Performance Appraisal that discusses the performance appraisal process and the sales professional.  These points are applicable here, yet I am highlighting “what is after the interim appraisal” as a result of the urgency getting on track, meeting goals, and having a successful last 5 months.

You Must Do Something Differently!

This is not an issue if you had a great interim review as you are on track, although you need to remain there.  The problem comes when the interim or mid-term was problematic, exposing what even you have to agree are sub-par sales results and as a result low attainment.

When you are in that mode you have reasons to despair and frankly, I can tell you I have been there. It is a place that you don’t want to be as you are up against a clock (actually the calendar) and you know something has got to change, or you won’t be there down the road.

The real deal is that you might not be doing anything wrong, yet you might not be doing enough right.  Something new has to be tried, and now is the time to do it.  I will propose a few things that may help; yet you cannot stop the normal sales process while you execute them.

Those items are as follows:

  • You must increase your prospecting effectiveness. It is a proper activity for even those who are having success.  Please to refer to Black Sales Journal 2/10, Prospecting Tips For Black Sales Professionals.  Making your prospecting activities most effective will include changing, yet it is still an activity that is basically short-term that will yield dividends.
  • Reckon with the numbers game that prospecting represents. There is no doubt that there is a formula that successful prospecting continually requires.  See this in Black Sales Journal 2/28, How Many Prospects Do You Really Need? You must know your success formula, and make it happen.  The formula is different based on your own effectiveness.  I might be able to make my numbers with fewer prospects, based on my own approach and characteristics.
  • Continue to work hard. There is no magic in this statement.  You can increase your effectiveness and recognize your prospecting formula and the numbers that make it work; yet you still can do more.  Here is where you put it into high gear.

Here are some activities that you can do that you might not be doing right now:

  • Utilize networking as a prospect source
  • Use seminars as a prospecting tool

Networking - can be a very effective prospecting source.  It does take work and some planning, yet proper networking will change the prospect base you are exposed to as well as create face-to-face opportunities for prospecting intimacy.  I went deep in this topic in Black Sales Journal 2/21, Networking for the Black Sales Professional.  Using networking effectively is possible in the short term and can be done while the normal prospecting activities continue.

Seminars - can be extremely effective.  Done correctly, this activity can be more effective that networking, yet require more preparation, and potentially some resources.  Black Sales Journal 3/24, Finding Prospects Though A Seminar gets deep into this activity that I am partial to.  Now to make this activity work, you do need to have a group that has some has some commonality in buying habits, product needs, industry type, or other characteristics just as the 3/24 post describes.  Once you pull a group together like this, and deliver a message a message with value, you will potentially have followers, prospects, and some customers that you may never have been exposed to.  It would help to be an expert, or regarded as one, yet not necessary.  If you are not an expert, you should engage one to speak to your group, and as is described in the post, keep meticulous records and do not let anyone in, or out, without their contact information, especially their email.

In Summary

These are tactical activities.  They do not replace normal prospecting but can supplement that activity.  You cannot make it in sales without prospecting and need to face that important issue if you have problems there.

Prospecting is the price of admission to being successful sales professional.  Prospecting Tips For Black Sales Professionals were designed specifically for up and coming Black sales professionals in recognition that if you are going to be in this profession, you will need them to smooth out the difficulties of sourcing prospects.

Be effective and prosper.

We welcome your comments. Reach me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.com.