I love sales. Not because I love the close or relish the hunt or like seeing my name on top of the leaderboard but because I love people. I’m not a salesperson; I’m a people-person who can close. And sales is simply helping people achieve their goals. I love it. And I know that if you’re going to be successful in helping people achieve their goals, you must be able to help them overcome their objections.
This is a critical component of sales and I remember years ago often sitting around with the rest of the sales team, swapping stories of using objection handling techniques to help customers do what was best for them. When I began bouncing from industry to industry as a sales-training and team-building consultant, I shared the same stories with the heads of sales departments and companies.
In the last five years or so, though, those stories have dried up. It seems that sales has become inundated with canned objection rebuttals, little by little replacing techniques and listening skills to objection handle.
There is a rush to throw new hires into the fray, perhaps because attrition in general tends to be high these days and sales has always been one of the departments to churn and burn staff more than most.
The logical result is to train less on meaningful communication with the customer, as that takes time and polish, and to replace it with canned phrases and rebuttals. It’s like a new version of dialing for dollars. And, just like dialing for dollars, it is wasteful and ineffective.
The result? Even greater turnover on the sales team paired with fewer sales. Bring back the stories of listening and helping customers overcome their own self-created obstacles! Here then are some valuable objection-handling techniques, along with examples.
Bring the Customer With You
Telling isn’t selling. We all know it, yet many of us spend considerable time pitching—i.e. talking instead of asking questions and listening. The three steps in this process enable us to ask questions, listen and guide the customer with us to logical conclusions they didn’t initially see. Tips and tricks:
1) Acknowledge the customer’s practice/position/statement.
2) Get permission to ask a question.
3) Immediately ask your first question without waiting for the customer’s reply.
In my very first sales job, on my very first day on the phone (ahh, that takes me back), I connected with a purchasing manager who was pissed about a dozen computers he had purchased. (I was selling office supplies, cold calling to schedule in-person appointments.) The computers were a flop and he was taking a lot of heat about them. I had him ready to talk to me about buying computers. One problem: I knew very little about computers.
“Okay,” I relayed, “so at this point what I’m going to do is transfer you to our computer expert.”
“Wait, what?! You don’t even know anything about computers? Great, another waste of my time. I’m hanging up.”
“Sure, I can understand why you’d want to do that. (Acknowledged his statement.) Let me ask you a question. (Got permission to ask a question.) You want to make sure no one complains to you about these new computers, right? (Immediately asked the first question.)”
“Yeah, I don’t want any complaints.”
“Okay, so whoever sold you those computers didn’t know enough to get you the right ones or didn’t care. Is that a fair assessment?”
“Yeah, I’d say it is.”
“So, I simply want to make certain we get you the exact computers you need. I know computers but we have someone here right now who knows the most of anyone in our company and you deserve to have him talk with you, don’t you? To talk to the best?”
“Damn straight. Put ‘em on, Ian, and thanks.”
I transferred the customer to my manager (our computer expert) after briefing him on the customer. I checked my first sale off the to-do list a few minutes later.
This aggressive rebuttal requires particularly smooth delivery, so be certain to pay attention to that detail. Tips and tricks:
- Implement when a customer objects to answering questions you need answered to provide them a solution.
- Remove something of potential value to the customer from the conversation and let the customer know it is being removed.
- End with a question to avoid being perceived as confrontational.
After conducting an objection-handling training, I observed the participating staff. The products were e-blasts and contact lists. Jumping ahead to where the takeaway was utilized by a rep:
“Okay, and what is your budget for this?”
“I prefer not to say.” (Objection.)
“All right, let me just ask, why is that?”
“Because my budget is for all online marketing, including search engine optimization and ad clicks. I don’t want to use it all for buying contact lists and sending e-blasts.”
“Sure, I can understand that. Just so you understand, it’s helpful for me to know your budget so that I can make the best recommendations for you. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, but I’m still not sharing my budget.” (Continued objection to a question that needs to be answered.)
“Okay, I understand and respect your position. We offer a number of discounts and incentives when you combine features and schedule recurring e-blasts. A lot of our customers are able to do more with less by taking advantage of these incentives. I’m going to keep them out of the conversation for now, to be certain I don’t mislead you in any way by discussing options that are out of your budget. (Removed object of value.) Does that make sense? (Asked question to avoid seeming confrontational.)
“Yes. All right, my budget is $80,000.”
The What-If Scenario
In this approach, you create a fictional story to help guide the customer to logically conclude their objection is inconsequential.
I listened in on a live call of one of my for-profit college admissions (sales) rep’s, utilizing this technique with a lead who had missed three appointments to come tour the school and speak with her in-person. (I was director of admissions at the time.) The school was located in Chicago. Jumping ahead to his reason for missing:
“Yeah, I didn’t have bus fare.”
“Okay, Dave, let me ask you a question. If you found out you had a long lost relative in England who died, and they had left you $30,000 but you had to get to England to claim it, wouldn’t you find the money to get to England?”
“Oh yeah, definitely!”
“So, our graduates with the certificate you want typically make $30,000 in their first job, and that’s annually not just one time. So why wouldn’t you find a way to get bus fare to come here, which is a lot less money than you need to get to England?”
“Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, actually.”
He rescheduled and showed for the appointment.
In each example, the sale was made and the customer profited, with the last one becoming a top student in his class. He earned a $40K paycheck in his first job after graduation, in which the school placed him (back in the year 2000).
We don’t always make the sale when we handle objections, which is perfectly okay because objection handling doesn’t mean overcoming the objection; rather, it is simply addressing it. If we don’t point out the folly of our customers’ objections, we aren’t doing what is best for them.
It’s important we don’t confuse objection handling with leaning on the customer, repeatedly, until they close.
If you’re looking to read more about selling strategies, check out my book, “The Customer is Never Right.”