We’ve all had prospecting conversations we wish had gone differently. Perhaps the prospect shut you down, perhaps they pushed you away, or perhaps they had some kind of issues with the product. Prospects with many objections are often seen as “difficult”, and this article could just as easily be titled “how to deal with difficult prospects.”
Every salesperson I know receives some training in how to handle objections. Usually, they are presented with a list of objections they’ll commonly face, and given answers to them that they are to learn by rote. This can be a useful exercise initially, but won’t prepare them for anything beyond that discrete set. Over time, they may abstract some of the methods used into a framework that’s more generally applicable.
In my time in sales, I’ve had the pleasure of working with excellent mentors, managers, and colleagues, all of whom provided guidance on this topic. Here, I’ve taken that guidance and built it into a very general framework you can use to handle those objections and more generally, deal with difficult clients.
Accept and affirm. Don’t dismiss their concerns.
In my opinion, most (or even all) of these kinds of issues arise because prospects feel they aren’t being heard. They feel there’s a disconnect between what they’re trying to tell a salesperson and the latter’s responses. The first step when confronted with any kind of objection is to accept their concerns as valid. Don’t present them with prepared answers or anything that sounds rote. This doesn’t work, as I’ve discovered over time.
Put yourself into the shoes of the prospect, and think about the situation: you’re telling the person who’s called you about the concerns you have with their product. You’ve had a look at it, and you know that these are things that will be discussed internally. And now the other person is simply dismissing them, and giving you pat answers to the very real issues you have. They may not have understood fully, or they may even interrupt you. They are ignoring you!
Nothing alienates more than being ignored or dismissed. Give every one of the issues they mention your full attention, even if you know it’s an instinctive reaction. Make sure they know you’re accepting their concerns as valid, and make sure you affirm their validity to them.
Qualify and confirm for your understanding.
In order to address their concerns, make sure you have a good understanding of what they are. It could very well be that you misunderstood the objection, or that they’re approaching it from an angle you hadn’t thought of. Here’s where your qualification skills must come to the fore, and you really discover what their issues are.
Aside from allowing you to address their concerns, by doing this you also show you’re taking them seriously. After all, you’re there to help, not just to sell. After your qualification, make sure to restate their concerns to them, to make sure you understand them. This is a great way of allowing them to state any further issues they may have. Also make sure to ask how important each objection is, and which ones are considered as show-stoppers.
Once you’ve understood their concerns, it’s a really good idea to find out (if you haven’t done so already) what they’re hoping to achieve. This is a great way to continue your qualification if you’re just beginning it, and it’s also a good way to shed the light of perspective onto the concerns they’ve just discussed with you.
The effect of this is to create a context for your further discussion with them. They have something they’re hoping to achieve, and they were or are considering your product as a means to achieve it. By bringing them back to this level of conversation, you’re building conceptual bridge you’ll later attempt to cross. Avoid any positioning or attempts to “solve” anything; make it all about them.
Contextualize and overcome.
When viewed from the vantage of the greater scheme of things, the objections they mentioned probably don’t appear as insurmountable as they previously did. Start discussing their concerns, and start with the ones they defined as less important. Put them into context, and have a discussion around each one.
If you can handle the objection, do so, but don’t do it in a manner likely to trivialize it. Make sure you discuss how and why your product is likely to perform well in the situation they described. Also make sure they understand by checking back with them. After each point, ask if you’ve addressed this particular concern, and if there are any further points to be made before moving onto the next one. If further concerns pop up, go through the same process again: accept them, qualify them, contextualize them to assign them importance, and discuss them to come to a resolution.
There are, of course, always things a product can’t do, or concerns that don’t deal with product, and perhaps your prospect has one of those as a high priority. If the objection is around budget, I’ll have an article up on that one soon (it’s so common I thought I’d address it separately). If it’s a concern you can’t answer, feel free to move on to other ones, and get back to them later. Make sure you research the answer and do get back to them as promptly as possible.
If your product has a (to the prospect) gaping feature hole, and you know you can’t fulfil it, make sure you’re honest about it. Let them know up-front that this can’t be done. Always be honest – there’s no use in lying here. Instead, go through your list of issues, and continue addressing the ones you can. Leave the impossibles for the end.
Dealing with the impossibles.
Once you’ve dealt with what you can, you’re in a much better position to deal with what you can’t. The prospect now has a much better idea of what your company can deliver, and how it can benefit them. If you can meet 80-90% of their needs, you’re probably better off than most competitors in any case.
The final conversation should be about listing the things you can’t do, and coming up with workarounds and solutions together. If it’s feasible or necessary, bring in technical expertise, and include the latter in your meetings with the prospect. They’ll feel better cared for, and you’ll know you have the expert in the room with you.
This article has given you the framework you need to deal with objections. I’ve tried to keep it as abstract as possible in order to help you apply it in as many situations as you can. However, it isn’t, and was never meant to be, a golden ticket. Sometimes those impossibles are deal-breakers. It’s better to discover them sooner and move on, rather than letting them get in the way of sales elsewhere. I can’t guarantee you’ll overcome every objection, but I will say this: if you follow this framework and build on it, you’ll become better at handling objections, and you’ll have happier clients who trust you more.
I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!
Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!