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Selling to an Abrasive Buyer

Salespeople must continually sell to and deal with abrasive customer personalities. Some are inherently abrupt and short in their responses because it is just part of their nature. Many times abrasiveness or abruptness can simply be a front to cope with or manage various sales situations. In either case, from a professional standpoint, these types of buyers can be extremely difficult to handle and sell to.

There are circumstances when abrasive individuals are placed into purchasing positions for particular reasons. Some companies want to develop reputations as being tough negotiators. In other cases certain types of more unemotional individuals are better for dealing with a host of salespeople on a daily basis, or for prolonged periods of time. In still other instances, some companies use abrasive individuals to weed out applicable from unusable vendor offerings. In all cases and circumstances, these types of individuals pose major sales challenges.


Abrasive buyers tend to set their own agendas and use intimidation and tactless behavior to their advantage. They are generally superb manipulators who often get what they want. Abrasive individuals can bully salespeople, which results in them losing their focus or fumbling through their presentations, making them appear unprofessional and unprepared and reducing the perceived value of their offering.

It is important to keep in mind that abrasive and bullying techniques are oftentimes used for the primary purpose of creating favorable negotiating positions. This technique generally works quite effectively unless it is recognized and countered.

It is important for salespeople to understand that abrasive personality use is often an applied buying technique, which should not be mistaken for a character flaw. When salespeople understand the “rules of the game” as specified by the types of buyers using this manipulative method, they can maneuver in a way that works to their own advantage. However, it takes personal experience with these kinds of individuals before effective countering techniques can be polished. The stress and intimidation initially faced by salespeople can be daunting, but it is imperative that they learn how to effectively deal with these types of sales situations.


Various types of abrasive behaviors are used to control the sales process. Abruptness that suggests annoyance and lack of interest can be an attempt by certain buyers to obtain more favorable company concessions or discounts. Other buyers will employ abrasive behaviors because they want to “shine” and look good for their superiors. In other circumstances some are mandated to exhibit abrasive behaviors and callous attitudes toward salespeople as a way to limit vendors from continually calling and barraging them with various promotions or specials.

The following tactics can be very effective when dealing with callous and abrasive buyers:


When abrasive buyers begin to throw a curve at salespeople, the best action to take is to defuse their negative or tactless remarks by redirecting particular comments to the next point in the sales discussion.

Keep It Light

Humor is an effective way for salespeople to defuse abrasive behaviors. Making light of an abrasive remark or behavior can often work to reduce or deflect personal attacks. When salespeople use humor they are generally able to immediately change the subject in a non-threatening way. This tends to catch most buyers off guard and often minimizes additional abusive behaviors.

Inserting Emotion

It may be necessary for salespeople to get “intentionally emotional” with certain abrasive buyers. The key is to keep actual emotions under control while openly demonstrating an outward type of surprised or painful response. This may cause some abusive buyers to back off, which also makes them more aware that their actions have consequences.


Salespeople should note the timing of abrasive outbreaks. Often used as positioning techniques to keep salespeople off balance, most negative comments, innuendos and demands will come in waves. Once particular patterns are identified, the key is to inject essential sales points that stimulate a sense of interest and curiosity and reserve others that are less powerful for later discussions.

It is essential to maintain a structured sales approach in situations where negative behaviors are being used. The need for prospects to terminate certain sales discussions and meetings is not unusual and should be expected. It may frustrate salespeople, since they will be unable to complete their calls or move them immediately ahead, but it does not necessarily imply the sale is lost. In some cases this action is simply part of the overall negotiating strategy, where particular buyers expect to return to the sales process to readdress offerings at a later time.

Closing Strategies

When dealing with abusive and abrasive buyers, salespeople need to concentrate on their actual closing strategies. Remembering that these behavioral tactics are often used as a means to set the stage for better negotiating terms and positioning, it is essential to convince these buyers that the best deal has been negotiated and anything further crosses the line of realistic expectations. Since this is a counter positioning stance, salespeople should allow the involved buyers to make the next move.

Concessions should be saved for the end of negotiations, thus allowing salespeople to make buyers look good in the eyes of their superiors. This also aids in ending all negotiating sessions with a lasting favorable impression.


  1. How often do you encounter abrasive buyers? Do you consider their behavior to be a character flaw or a tactic?
  2. What has been your typical response to an abrasive or callous buyer?


Analyze and resolve the following situations:

  1. An abrasive buyer states that his or her business will be terminated if you do not agree to an important concession. What responses would help keep both your respect as a professional and the account?
  2. An abrasive buyer takes control of the sales encounter in a hostile way when talking on the phone. The same individual has responded this way in a previous call. What can you do to prevent the situation from happening again?

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK: BSA-030 Difficult Customer Behaviors

About Majorium Business Press

Majorium Business Press is an independent publisher founded in 2010. It is in the business of helping people to be better at what they do, whether they are employees, managers, trainers, business owners, or consultants. It supplies expertise through its unique professional development library of over 125 books that educate individuals to learn new skills, or enhance existing ones to solve problems and improve their performance, providing flexible materials to use for developing training, discussions, coaching, or to supplement existing training.

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