Helping Business Succeed

Handling Sales Objections

To be successful when we sell product and services we must learn how to handle sales objections.  Objections are unavoidable and are an important part of the process.

While few people enjoy receiving negative feedback from a client in reaction to their recommendations, capabilities, or benefits, it is a natural reaction whenever two or more people communicate.  In fact, many professional consultants and salespeople feel it is a good sign when clients are open enough to verbalise their true reactions (positive or negative).  After all, only when you know their reactions can you determine what to do next.  Nothing is more disastrous to your selling efforts than letting objections go not resolved!

In this article I hope to give you some tips on how to turn your customers “no” in to a “yes”

In reality, most client concerns or “objections” arise because the client has considered your recommendations or services and has returned to a previous stage in the Decision Process as they have additional needs or concerns or need more information to make an informed decision.

Negative feedback can arise for any number of reasons.  Sometimes the client is simply not convinced of the merits of your proposal; sometimes you have not addressed one or more client needs, or have emphasised the wrong ones; sometimes the client does not have a clear or thorough understanding of what we have to offer; sometimes you haven’t made a strong enough case for your recommendations; and sometimes there are “hidden” forces that may prevent a client from giving you positive feedback.

Not all negative feedback is resolvable (for instance, if a client has a need we cannot address), but for the most part, it can be dealt with effectively by using a combination of listening skills, “sales process” skills, communication skills, and plain common sense.

Here is a proven process for handling negative feedback (client objections or concerns):

  1. Acknowledge the negative feedback (“I can understand why you might be concerned with [x].”) This helps you “get in step” with the client’s reactions or feelings
  2. Clarify the meaning, if necessary, before you respond. This allows you to fully understand and address the right
  3. Address the issue
  4. Verify the client is satisfied with your response; if he/she is not, return to step 1.
  5. Guide the client to the next logical step in the Decision Process.

Most client concerns or obstacles can be classified into six broad categories.  The best way to handle negative or neutral reactions from a client is to anticipate it before the client contact, and pre-empt it by building it into your conversation or proposal.

Of course, not all concerns can be anticipated.

In these cases, classifying the type of obstacle can help you determine how to deal with it:

Doubt

Description: The client is sceptical of some claim you make or benefit you offer.

How to handle: Provide proof sources such as data, studies, third-party referrals, and success stories.

Misunderstanding

Description: The client does not accurately comprehend something you state or offer.

How to handle: Take responsibility upon yourself for lack of clarity (“Perhaps I didn’t explain the process clearly”), then reiterate the capability and benefit/value by providing more details, using visual support, or explaining it in different words (be careful to avoid too much jargon which the client may not comprehend).

Unfulfilled Need

Description: The client has a need that we cannot fulfil.

How to handle:

(1) If the need will have a major bearing on the potential project and outcome, offer to help the client find a consultant who can satisfy the need.

(2) If the need is a minor element of the potential project, and will not affect the outcome in any significant manner, try to counterbalance what you cannot provide with the capabilities and benefits you can provide.  In other words, try to outweigh the minor negative factor with all the positive factors.  An alternative is to bring in other (outside) resources to work with you who can provide the “missing link.”

Satisfaction with current supplier

Description: The client is satisfied with the services from their current provider.  They see no need to change.

How to handle: This is one of the most challenging objections.  It must be handled tactfully, with recognition that clients will take the time and effort to change providers only if (1) they are experiencing “pain” in one or more areas and (2) they perceive you as the best solution.  This means you need to ask Fact, Need, and Implication questions without questioning their decision to use another consulting firm or “bashing” your competitor.

Recognise also that changing providers is often perceived as a risky and/or cumbersome effort, so anything you can do to differentiate your services, minimise risk, and ease the transition is important.

No Urgency

Description: The client’s perception of the need is not strong or urgent enough to motivate him/ her to take action.  The client may be willing to live with the current situation.

How to handle: This type of objection is often verbalized as “It’s not that big a deal” or “We’ve learned to live with it,” indicating that it is easier to live with the status quo than to effect change.  To handle this, either:

(1)  Help the client to more fully understand and verbalize the consequences (long-term or short-term) of not taking action or the benefits of taking action (by asking Implication questions or sharing anecdotes about other clients in similar situations), or

(2)  Ask questions to uncover other “hidden” concerns the client may have, or ask questions to clarify their concerns.  These questions should not put the client on the spot, but should be formulated to offer to assist the client, for example, “When you say it is not that big a deal, do you mean you don’t consider it a big deal, or do you mean others in your organization don’t feel it’s a major issue?,” or “What concerns do you have about moving forward?,” or “What can we do to help you create a sense of urgency with the other people who would be involved?”

Sometimes, the client may simply have too many other issues to deal with, and the issue/need you have identified does not take precedence.  In these cases, you don’t want to “push,” so you should simply empathize with the client’s need to set priorities and offer to bring up the issue again at some time in the future when the client may have a greater need, or more time to focus on it.

Competition

Description: The client feels one of your competitors can fill his/her needs or solve the problem more effectively.

How to handle: Acknowledge the reputation of your competitor, and tactfully inquire about the client’s feelings about the competitor’s capabilities, for example, “They certainly have a good reputation.  Can you tell me what advantages you feel they bring to the engagement?”  Listen carefully and always be respectful of the competition and the client’s feelings.  If appropriate, try to show (by success story, data, studies, or other reinforcers) how you can match or exceed those attributes that are important to the client; if that approach is not appropriate, simply thank the client for sharing their insights and giving you the opportunity to learn more about their priorities (this can be valuable information for the next engagement or sales opportunity!)

Lack of Resources or money

Description: The client feels there is a lack of time or other resources (people, money, etc.) to implement your recommended solution.

How to handle: Clarify, if necessary, why the client feels this way.  Identify whether this is the only issue to help surface other “hidden” concerns.  Empathize, re-confirm that the client would indeed choose to move forward if restrictions were not present, ask further implication questions, if appropriate, and explore mutually creative options to help the client obtain the resources (re-assigning people, realigning budget lines, doing the proposed project in stages, modifying the scope or deliverables, etc.)  If the issue persists, ask when resources will become available.