August 25, 2020 Shawn

A Speaker’s Guide To Handling Rude Prospects


People buy from people, and when we’re dealing with folks organizing the types of events that bring in speakers, we need to understand that everyone has a lot going on in their lives. No one woke up today and said, “I’d love it if a professional speaker I’ve never met or heard of called me and asked me to hire them to speak!”

What DO they wake up saying, whatever their position?: “I’ve got a lot on my plate, and a lot of challenges that have been weighing on me. I’d love to make some progress today in solving those.”

As a whole, people are nice, accommodating and happy to help. Occasionally, they’re not. It’s these rare instances of running into a rude prospect that keeps a lot of speakers from ever picking up the phone in the first place. If we approach our conversations with the mentality of a problem solver, we’ll not only make more progress in our sales conversations, we’ll also be able to deal with the folks who for whatever reason aren’t very nice when we call them.

How do I know if someone is being rude?

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Rudeness, as speaking prospects go, exists on a scale. At the lighter end of the scale are people who are mildly annoyed at you contacting them. On the other end of the scale are those who take personal offense at being contacted by a professional speaker. Before we dive into the categories of rude prospects we encounter, it’s important to understand the mindset speakers need to have in order to use any of the techniques outlined below.

First, remember Don’s agreement:
In Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements, one of the agreements he asks people to adopt to reclaim their power is to ‘Not take it personally.’ That’s a critical step in dealing with rude prospects. Understand their rudeness has nothing to do with you or why you called. Something is going on personally or professionally in the life of that person that’s causing them to be rude. That doesn’t change your job, which is to discover whether the event they’re putting together will be a good fit for your content. It simply means you may have to modify your tone and attitude to match/offset theirs.

Second, remember why you’re calling
In addition to not taking anything personally (these folks don’t know you and therefore are in no position to judge you), it’s also important to remember why you’re picking up the phone in the first place. You have value you’ve spent decades cultivating and honing your expertise into a skillset few other people on earth can deliver: engaging presentations. Why you chose to be in business is also a critical element – whether it’s to provide for your family or fund an orphanage, it’s vital to keep that driving purpose behind you, especially when you encounter rude prospects. We should believe so much in why we do what we do that ‘No’ doesn’t bother us, because it gets us closer to the next ‘yes’. After 5,000 sales calls, the worst thing we’ve heard was just ‘no.’  A ‘no’ from a rude prospect is actually a bonus – it frees us up to serve other people and, big surprise, bad prospects tend to make horrendous clients.

Let’s walk through each of the levels of rude prospects so we know what type of rude we’re dealing with, our responses that keeps the conversation going (even when they hang up on us!) and why we respond that way.

Rude Level 1: Mildly annoyed
What they’re thinking when you call: “I have a lot of things to do and don’t have time to listen to another speaker’s life story or explain to them who we are, what we do, or when our next events happen.”

What it sounds like: “Yeah, what can I do for you?”

Speaker response: “I probably caught you at a bad time, just wondering if you’re the person responsible for educational programming at your Chicago event in 2021? If so, I just wanted to ensure it would be worth us having a conversation about that event now or down the road.”

Why: We need to ensure they know we’re want to get in and get out of their hair as quickly as possible that day. To ensure that’s communicated, we show up to the call letting them know we’ve done our research and with just a few details they can quickly provide, we’ll make sure we reconnect at the right time in the future.

Rude Level 2: Condescending
What they’re thinking when you call: “I deal with so many amateurs wanting to get on my stage, and this speaker is likely no different. I’m going to have to hand-hold them through the process of finding our website, showing them where the RFP form is, and telling them we’ll keep their information on file, only to never select them.”

What it sounds like: “I’ve been hiring speakers for two decades; celebrities, politicians, you name it. If you want to be considered, fill out the call for speakers and we’ll let you know if we’re interested.”

Speaker response: “Happy to send over whatever you need so when it comes time to deciding, you can save yourself time. To ensure I don’t waste my time either, let me get some information about your event so I can send along topics and fees that are actually relevant to your audience.”

Why: This person wants you to know they’re in charge and have more experience hiring speakers than anyone else. They’ve seen it all and done it all and they keep information from people like you in a folder that gets looked at twice a year. We never want to go against the grain of anyone’s process, but we need them to know we’re professionals too. That means we won’t be wasting our time submitting an RFP if we can’t serve their audience. From this point, we roll through all the questions we’ll need to subvert the RFP entirely and leave the call with budget, buying timeline, knowing who makes the decisions, etc.

Rude Level 3: Too busy
What they’re thinking when you call: “I really don’t have time for this call and I’ve never heard of this speaker. Who do they think they are?”

What it sounds like: “Listen, I’m about to step into a meeting. Why don’t you send me your information and fees in an email and we’ll let you know if we’re interested.”

Speaker response: Happy to do that, and I know I caught you out of the blue. Let me get just a few details from you so that you get the things you need that will be useful.”
Why: Everyone is on their way to a meeting, if you think about it. Even if the meeting doesn’t start for three more hours. Because we believe so strongly in the value we deliver, we can confidently assert that a conversation with us is a better use of time than whatever meeting this person is about to step into. How often do they get the chance to talk with an expert in (enter your expertise here)?

Level 4: Irate/Hangs up on you
What they’re thinking when you call: “Nope. This person isn’t worth my time.”
What it sounds like: “Who are you? And who are you with? Why are you calling me?” And a variation on this theme is simply stating your name and hearing *click* as they hang up on you.
Speaker response: In the first scenario (where they’re at least speaking with you), understand that their fear in this exchange is a waste of their time. In sales parlance, we can ‘blow up the call’ and match them toe to toe by saying, “I realize you don’t have time to waste, and neither do I. I understand you’re responsible for the Chicago event in 2021, is that right?” While being aggressive may be outside your comfort zone, there are whole swaths of people who only respond when they’re called out at their level (and they’re predominantly located in New Jersey, but we do encounter them other places, too). Once they realize you won’t be intimidated by their bluster, one of two things will happen. They’ll either turn it down a notch or hang up on you. In that second case, we do the only ethical thing available to us in a situation like this: We go over the head of the rude person. That looks like a phone call and/or letter to their boss explaining that the employee who hung up on you might have been having technical issues with their phone because we know they’d never hang up on a potential member or partner.
Why: If you’re dealing with a hammerhead of this extreme degree, you’ll never get a conversation unless someone who outranks them orders them to talk to you. Going above their heads is your only chance of salvaging the gig, so why not do it? What do you have to lose – the worst the boss can do is ignore you as well. The best is that they connect you to the irate employee with the directive to have a conversation. I’ll take those odds (and regularly do).

By understanding that rude prospects aren’t being rude because of you and remembering that your time and expertise is valuable as well, you’ll find that you’ll have even rude prospects answering questions and better preparing you to get the gig.

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