Mastering the art of objection handling in sales
What is objection handling?
Objection handling in sales is the art-meets-science of addressing questions and challenges presented to you by a prospect during the sales process; these objections can be presented at any time during a sale from an initial introduction through to receipt of a signed contract.
How you handle objections can be the difference between incredible ongoing sales success and disappointing results – so let’s look at how you can achieve the former.
Objection handling: The right mindset
Objections are rarely a straight ‘no’, they are often an opportunity for you to ask questions, provide solutions, show knowledge, gain credibility and exhibit an understanding of the prospect’s world.
Some people fear objections – and I regularly get canvassed by people who buckle at the first objection:
Me: “Ah – we don’t use that service”
Seller: “OK – sorry for contacting you”
But things are rarely this simple – I may just be about to start looking for the exact service the seller contacted me about – but they were off the phone so quickly I couldn’t tell them that.
Sometimes a simple answer or question can take you beyond the objection to the sales path less often travelled…
Preparing to handle objections
If you enjoy a ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ selling experience, objection handling can be handled on the fly, as objections come up – this may seem like a whole lot of fun – but this can be a risky choice.
I believe the best objection handling starts before the call/presentation/demo or meeting takes place; being prepared for likely objections will mean that you are not caught off-guard by many of the typical questions that the prospect might throw your way.
Consider your audience's likely objections
Who are you selling to – is it the CEO, the CFO or the CTO – the objections you can expect from each may be quite different.
Consider your audience; what do they care about, who are their stakeholders? What do those stakeholders care about? Who else is involved in the decision making process?
Consideration of each of these will help you understand the likely objections.
Consider what might get asked
There are a number of potential avenues you could take when preparing responses to likely objections; these include:
If you work with colleagues that have experience in selling your solutions, speak to them about what the common objections are; what order do they come in typically, what are the right answers, what are the wrong answers – what sentence should you never say, for example.
Propel yourself into the mind of your customer, if you were buying your product or service what are the likely objections you would have:
If, for example, your offering is a highly differentiated, novel solution to a problem that people may not yet realise they have – imagine the Smartphone circa 1999 – you will have to confront objections regarding the need for the solution. You may choose to cite statistics that support your position, stories that exemplify the issue – and you may then have to handle objections about adoption by colleagues, reliability, security, usability and so on.
If, however, your solution is a replacement for an existing product or service you may well have to answer objections on the basis of your prospect having existing providers – or show a willingness to engage in a lengthy procurement process that only gets reviewed when the Churyumov–Gerasimenko comet is observed from Earth on a Tuesday…
Each case is different, but a little lateral thought can take you a long way.
Role playing objection handling
An alternative is a bit of work-based role play – of the work-safe type, of course.
Ask a colleague to play the role of the buyer – if they are in sales you can perhaps take turns to be the buyer and seller. Really get into character – start off nice, get scarier – have some fun with it, but be ready to scribble down the objections that each of you brings up in order that you can develop some world-class objection handling after the role play is over.
If you feel comfortable and have a good relationship with your customers you could ask them whether they get pitched to by others (a great opportunity for a little competitive intelligence too) – and how those conversations typically go – what do they get approached with and how do they respond?
You could start making cold approaches and see what comes up – it’s probably best not to start with your ideal customers though – not until you’re in the swing of things!
Creating an objection handling 'script'
I loathe scripts - but having some standard messages you can use to answer specific objections can be very worthwhile.
Consider what makes you different
If you want to be able to handle objections you need to understand what sets you apart from others in the marketplace – so some research on your competitors can be useful in realising what others are offering and how, therefore, you differ.
This can be achieved through desk research, finding someone wise and experienced in your workplace to quiz, by conducting some sort of client survey – or by speaking to customers or prospects.
Own those objections
Now you know your objections you can use them to your advantage – rather than passively answering objections, you can tailor your pitch to actively preempt those objections and even drive differentiation using those.
A ballsy pitch might acknowledge the fact that you reside in a crowded market and that everyone claims the same things – and then go on to explain the ways you differ or excel.
How to handle objections
Far too often I have witnessed salespeople approach objection handling as a contest of who is right and who is wrong – as a battle of wits – to be ‘won’ at all costs.
The problem with this approach is that it is naturally combative and can set up an environment that is frankly very bad for relationships and any chance of a sale. As I have often said: “you may win the battle but you’ll lose the war”.
Obviously it depends on your industry and the audience with which you’re dealing but a better way of dealing with an objection can be to step sideways and say “Yes, we have clients who had that perspective of our product/service – but when they trialled it they found this” – or to share stats that respectfully show that although their concern is a common one, the outcomes (as proved by an independent study, for example) are quite different.
Delivery is key here – communicate with respect and a desire to help and the objection handling pixies will treat you kindly.
If you get stuck handling an objection
Acknowledge the fact it’s a great question, you don’t have the right answer immediately to hand – and commit to coming back to them with an answer, write it down, if you’re face to face let them see you have written it down, move on.
And one last thought…
There is only a point in objection handling if you really believe that the objection needs handling: If the objection is a valid one then thank the person for their feedback and fall back onto plan B.
So if the person says ‘I have literally just signed a deal for 3 years with your main competitor’ – and you have no complementary or alternative service – then accept that, tell them you know it’s a long way off, but you’d like to be front of mind when they look at providers again and seek their permission to reconnect at an appropriate time. I have seen many new suppliers fail and a customer come back because the reality didn’t match the promises – I always advocate leaving the ‘door’ open.
Questions on objection handling?
As always if you have any questions on how to handle an objection I’d be delighted to help - we can even tailor an objection handling training course to address your specific needs.