Nobody likes to hear a ‘no’, whether or not you work in sales. It’s human nature.
Successful salespeople take the time to plan, prepare, anticipate what questions or issues could come up - and don’t allow themselves to take objections personally or become demotivated. It's an unavoidable part of the sales process. In this article, we’re going to give you some tools for turning objections into opportunities.
A plan to handle sales objections
To start with, here are seven tips to keep in mind:
- Take a deep breath and gather your thoughts. Maybe write down the question to help you to focus and give you some thinking space.
- Clarify by asking follow-ups questions to get a clear understanding of the issue. Deep listening is the key here to cultivate empathy. Pay attention to the feelings associated with the words.
- Don’t get into a debate, argue, interrupt or get defensive. These are natural human reactions when we are challenged, but are unlikely to win you a sale!
- You may feel the customer has misunderstood your product or a point you have made. In this case, be calm, balanced and patient. Tactfully disagree and allay their fears.
- Be friendly and natural to build rapport; and to foster trust and credibility.
- Believe in your product, be confident in your response and 100% honest. Appeasing the customer or side-stepping the issue just to move the conversation along will come back to bite you further down the line.
- Build a bank of the most common objections and the best responses to overcome them, leaving room to customize and adapt for specific situations.
Now, here are the four most common themes for objections - and how to respond to them...
“We don’t have the budget;” “I like your product - it’s got all the features we’re looking for, but I feel it’s too expensive”; “There are similar things on the market that are cheaper.”
This is a very common pushback, so one that’s essential for you to anticipate and prepare for. According to HubSpot, more than 35% of today’s sellers say their biggest challenge is overcoming price objections.
It happens relatively far into the selling/buying process, and is usually a way of persuading you to offer them a discount, or throw in some extras. Sometimes it can be a way of delaying having to make a final decision.
Keith Brooks, a Competitive Intelligence Advisor and member of the SEC Slack community, says:
"Often price issue is because it has been brought up at the wrong time in the cycle or discussion. We have not sold ourselves well enough for them to agree to our price, no matter the price. Yes, some people always negotiate (culturally/personality) but as you progress they should have a rough idea what it will cost."
- Focus on the value that you have delivered for clients just like them, emphasizing the benefits over the cost. Reference feedback and testimonials by others that reinforces positive ROI (qualitatively and quantitatively).
- Be specific about how long it will take to start seeing results, using examples of current and previous customers. Have figures at hand to make the benefits appear tangible.
- Reassure them that you can work together to provide a solution to their concern.
- Don’t be too quick to indicate you may be able to offer a discount. According HubSpot’s Aja Frost: “being too discount-happy will destroy your margins and lower your product’s perceived value”.
“What are you comparing our price to?” (focus on differentiating your offering in terms of value).
“How much were you thinking of paying?” (establish whether they actually have the budget to be a viable lead).
“How much will it cost you to do nothing?" (encourage them to reevaluate their current situation, and allow you to explain hidden costs they may not have considered).
“After using our product to automate their payments, Example Customer found they saved XX% on transaction fees at the end of the quarter” (give a real-life example of how another company actually saved money using your product).
“Is price the only thing holding you back from signing?" (bring any underlying concerns to light to help you understand and address any issues beyond the price objection).
“Up front, I understand it's a significant purchase. Let’s break it down by [monthly, quarterly, yearly ROI]” (show them a different way of perceiving your pricing.)
“Perhaps we could negotiate a staged rollout that will allow the cost to be spread out over time?” (helps allay genuine price concerns and build trust).
2. Lack of authority
“I’m not the decision-maker”; “I don’t have approval”.
- Research the company structure before you make contact to establish the relevant person to speak to, so that you don’t waste your time pitching to someone who will need approval to make a decision.
- For example, the regional offices of larger companies will often need approval from Head Office to change suppliers.
- Empower someone of lower influence to be your champion. Make it worthwhile for them to help you by establishing that you will address some of their needs.
“Who do you need to help you make the decision?”
“Would you be able to introduce me to X?”
“Thank you for your support.”
(...to not only get an ‘in’ with the appropriate person to talk to, but also to show them you value and respect their input - and any relationship you’ve built with them so far - and their ability to influence a senior figure.)
3. Happy with current provider or solution
“We use a competitor”; “We already do this in-house”.
In this scenario, you’re on a call with someone who says they’re happy with their incumbent supplier.
- Know your customer. Research the customer’s buying patterns, as well as current and previous providers. If they don’t switch suppliers often, or send out requests for information/proposals, you know that the selling process is going to be more challenging.
- Know your competition and their strengths and weaknesses.
- Keep the conversation going by asking for details - if you’ve done your research properly, you should be able to anticipate their answers and they will confirm what you already know, which will allow you to focus on your responses and how they align with their needs.
- Don’t bad-mouth your competitors. Even if your prospect is adamant they want to stay with a competitor, or with their in-house function, leaving a good impression will leave the door open to talk again in the future.
“Ah yes, I know X competitor, they’re a great company I’ve heard good things about. In fact, we share a lot of mutual customers.” (...to validate their choice and give you the opportunity to show you how you’re different and have provided additional value to your customers.)
“How long have you been using/purchasing from them?”
“When was the last time you considered other options in this area?”
“How’s it going with X competitor?”
(...to establish their relationship with their current provider, as well as whether they are a legacy supplier they’ve not changed in a while without considering other options).
“What do you see as the key benefits/features they provide you with?” (gives you the opportunity to talk about your differentiators).
“What are some of the things you like about what they provide?”
“What are some things that you think could be better?” (...to uncover weaknesses with their current supplier, and demonstrate how your product would perform better than theirs.)
“I’d like to understand a bit more about the evaluation process you went through when choosing X.” (plant doubt in their mind about whether they're making the right choice).
"When is your contract up for renewal?" (gauge whether it’s worth pursuing at the current time, and suggest scheduling a meeting, say, six months down the line.)
4. Lack of interest
This is common to come up against in the prospecting stage; if it happens later in the sales process, such as after you’ve given a presentation, it may be an indicator that a lead isn’t really worth pursuing.
Dealing with gatekeepers
“I’m not interested”; “Just send me some information”; “We don’t accept sales calls”; “Call back in six months”; “What’s this in regard to?”
- People can be wary and dismissive of sales calls; it’s the specific job of gatekeepers such as receptionists and PAs to screen out unwanted calls.
- If this happens at your first contact, your challenge is to convince the gatekeeper it’s worth their while speaking to you or putting you in contact with the relevant person in the organization.
“The reason for me reaching out is because we [insert value proposition, eg, ‘help sales managers to improve the performance of their whole team’]” (avoid ‘salesy’ clichés that immediately flag to them that they need to jump into ‘gatekeeper’ mode).
“I understand - I’m not trying to sign you up to anything. I’m not really sure if you guys need what we provide. Can I ask you real quick [qualifying questions]?” (keep the conversation going and engage the gatekeeper by asking them to give their own input; this encourages them to put you through to someone else if they’re not sure of the answer).
“Sure, I’ll put something together to send over. So that you don’t have to waste time going through information that’s not relevant/so I know to send over the most helpful information, can I ask you [qualifying questions]?” (find out what their pain points are to help you to position your product further down the line; gatekeepers often have contacts throughout the business and have a great deal of useful knowledge!)
When you’ve secured an appointment with the right person, but they’re not biting
“No thanks”; “This isn’t the right time”; “That timeline doesn’t work for us”; “I’ll get back to you”; “I’ve heard from your other customers that you don’t always deliver results”.
- Make sure you have a thorough knowledge of company developments. Have they been on a recruitment drive, indicating expansion? Has their revenue or profits recently dipped? Is there a new competitor making waves in their industry?
- Ask further questions to uncover topics of interests or pain points that you can tailor to the prospect’s needs.
- If you decide there’s really no opportunity there, use it as a way of gaining feedback to improve your approach in the future.
“What is currently standing in the way of growth?”
“What do you need to drive your company forward?”
(identify the real barrier and focus on how your product could realistically help them).
“When you agreed to meet with me, I prepared some ideas/solutions to address your current situation. What other areas would it have been more useful for us to focus on?”
“I wouldn’t want to leave it here without fully exploring the ways in which [the product] could benefit you/your business.”
(get them to reveal the true reasons for their reluctance to engage further).
“I understand. Let's get a date in the diary today for us to talk again about how [the product] could help you.” (focus on keeping the sales opportunity alive).
“Oh really? That’s certainly not true - let me give you some examples of what other customers of mine have said about our product.” (...to counter a prospect who’s heard negative feedback or rumors about your company’s reputation, without being confrontational).
This list, of course, isn’t exhaustive. Every salesperson will hear an objection they’ve never encountered before at some point in their careers - be it shocking, aggressive or just plain bizarre. The trick is to stay calm, listen, and ask further questions to clarify your understanding.
These tips will hopefully help you to evaluate how you currently handle objections and help towards developing your own style of handling them.
What’s the strangest objection you’ve ever heard? How did you handle it? We want to hear your stories! Share them in the SEC Slack community!