Sales objections have got a bad name for themselves.
These are not obstacles to a sale.
They are not barriers to progressing down the funnel.
They are not insurmountable slaps in the face that kill dead your chance of filling your quota.
Far from it.
Sales objections are, at worst, a way to qualify – and perhaps disqualify – a lead. And, at best, they are the most transparent and obvious signal to the pain point that your potential customer is actually experiencing.
For the former type of objections, you can quite happily park the lead and move on to more promising pastures.
And with the latter, you have just gained critical insight into exactly how you need to position your proposition.
Looked at in this way, objections are no bad thing at all. They’re more a learning curve/opportunity than a road block/derailment.
Let’s take this from the top and look at how you should handle sales objections emotionally, tactically and strategically.
And you’ll never use their name in vain again.
Join our newsletter
Get the latest B2B sales and marketing tips, straight to your inbox
Zen and the art of objection handling
Pity the poor human.
Born with a natural tendency to respond to the release of adrenaline, we instinctively enter ‘fight or flight’ mode the second we feel threatened.
We can’t help it.
In an instant our temperatures rise, our hearts beat faster, sweat forms from every gland and our brains and mouth go into overdrive.
We begin thinking in a scatter-brained, knee jerk staccato-style.
Our voice gets louder.
Our tone manages to encompass both defensive and aggressive in one fell swoop.
We pause to take fewer gulps of air as we talk faster and faster.
And, as our wordcount doubles, we somehow manage to effectively communicate less.
These are animal instincts, no doubt, but all too recognisably human.
And, most definitely, not the best way to be presenting a sales pitch.
Anyone who has listened to or watched recordings of themselves or other salespeople meeting objections will recognise this set of reactions.
Needless to say, they are 100% the wrong reactions, but it’s worth reiterating them here as they will happen whether you are aware of them or not.
It’s how you deal with these reactions that matters.
Let’s roll out the data
This set shouldn’t come as any surprise, but it’s always somehow comforting to have some facts and figures to lean upon.
Studies, such as this one, have shown that salespeople who can calmly overcome the typical fight or flight reactions that objections produce are the most successful in closing deals.
What’s more, they tend to pause longer before responding to objections. They control the rush, steady their nerves and let their initial emotions subside.
By contrast, others react to objections like a bull to a red flag and come tearing in, interrupting the prospect and trying to overwhelm them with a rush of words per minute.
It’s not that top performers slow things down – after that initial pause they proceed with a sense of calm and at a ‘normal’ conversational pace.
To summarise: keep calm and carry on. But you’ll only be able to do this if you are prepared to meet objections.
After all, thinking on your feet is not the best way to use your brain.
Let’s get you prepared.
Sales objections are a dish best answered cold
The best way to avoid the panic response to objections is to be prepared.
And there are a number of tactics for answering sales objections – don’t worry we’re getting there – but perhaps the best is the simplest.
It’s a neat trick.
If you see objections as completely unrelated to you, they lose their emotional impact. And the way to do this is to view objections as an offer of insight about your prospect.
Do not look a gift horse in the mouth: the best thing to do with insight is to explore it. In our introduction we suggested that sales objections – from your point of view – fall into two camps. At the risk of repeating ourselves, let’s repeat ourselves:
‘Sales objections are, at worst, a way to qualify – and perhaps disqualify – a lead. And, at best, they are the most transparent and obvious signal to the pain point that your potential customer is actually experiencing.’
Which is to say that sales objections are an opportunity to learn about exactly where your prospect is coming from, rather than a direct affront to yourself.
By exploring the objection with a prospect – as it relates to them not you – you buy yourself time, address their concerns and can recalibrate your approach.
If an objection turns out to be valid then you have (dis-)qualified a lead. This means you have identified a prospect with no prospects. Moving on, you have found time to focus your efforts on those with the best chance of signing that deal.
And these prospects are those who – if you can answer their objections – are, like Fats Domino, ready, willing and able.
Ready – they have a problem they need solving
Willing – they recognise the need to take action to solve that problem
Able – they have the budget and authority to do so
In this framework, an objection is simply something that a prospect tells you prevents them from being ready, willing or able.
No need to even answer this straight away, but exploring it will help you pinpoint on what front your approach must be made from.
The taxonomy of sales objections
Objections come in all shapes and sizes.
Yet they still are broadly speaking round pegs, square pegs, star-shaped pegs, triangular pegs and so on. So, let’s create some appropriately shaped holes you can slot them into.
As there are always exceptions that prove the rule, should you come across objections that do not fall into our neat, schematic taxonomy, then you simply need to brainstorm a new hole to put these irregularly-shaped beasts into the next time you encounter them.
But, on the whole, here are the types of sales objections you are likely to come across:
Price objections (‘aka ‘How much?’ objections)
Solution in place objections (aka ‘Think I prefer this one’ objections)
Time objections (‘Not now dear’ objections)
Trust objections (aka ‘Who are you ‘objections)
Change objections (aka ‘Sounds like a lot of work’ objections)
Seniority objections (aka ‘Not the decision maker’ objections)
Need objections (aka ‘Happy as I am’ objections)
Let’s hole these pegs one by one.
A prospect that genuinely can’t afford your offering is actually a lead not worth pursuing. Discretely file them away in the CRM for nurturing and schedule a return call in the distant future.
Often, however, price objections are used to mask other issues.
This is when it’s time to flip the conversation to payment options (note to self: never start discussing discounts) or, better still, move it on from price to value.
The indisputable fact is that solutions that add value – and whose value is both perceived and keenly felt – will always justify their price tag.
Bring things back to the payoff over time.
Focus on pain points answered – and the implicit cost of these.
Try to see behind the ‘price mask’ by asking questions like “If there’s no budget right now, might there be in the future?”
This helps return the focus to problems that need fixing and may unearth which problems your prospect sees your solution as not addressing.
Solution in place objections
Two of the main things you need to know to qualify a lead is that they recognise the need for a solution and that they are prepared to invest in this.
From this point of view having a prospect tell you that they’re with a competitor already is just about two of the three steps to heaven.
This is where tactics kick in.
Understand the weaknesses of your competitor’s product, compared to yours, as an initial attempt to scale that third step.
Specifically explore how this solution is working (and not working) for your prospect.
Plan to share examples of customers who have switched from the competitor to you and any collateral that addresses areas where your competitor doesn’t come up to scratch.
Work hard to minimise any barriers that may be raised in relation to changing contracts and restarting training among staff.
Unfortunately, particularly in the SaaS space, long contracts can be the norm. Here you’ll need to keep in contact with regular updates/reminders and bunker down for a long sales process (unless your pockets are deep enough to buy them out).
Time objections include the ‘I haven’t got the time’ and ‘It’s not the right time’ varieties.
Working within your buyer’s time frame is key to any sale but often ‘time’ is brought to play as an objection.
Here’s what to do when…
1. They say: ‘I need to think about it.’
Time to think equals uncertainty. Do not left them drift off until you can nail where this uncertainty is. Also check whether they need ‘time’ because they are not the decision maker or because they fear the scale of investment and/or scale of change involved.
2. They say: ‘This feels like something for our next budget round.
Behind this objection lies an unstated something that needs to be in place or change before a decision can be made. Understanding what this something is will be the best way to address this. It may be that it makes sense – next quarter is the only real option. In this case, keep in contact, keep top of mind and plug those dates firmly into the CRM.
3. They say: ‘Thanks, but I’ll contact you later.’
You ignore the vague brush-off and politely encourage a bit more clarity and honesty by asking ‘Of course. But before you go can I just double check if you are really interested in pursuing this conversation further, I’d hate to become annoying?’
4. They say: ‘Can you just email me the info.’
Agree to do this, but also explain that if you could understand a bit more about their problems in this area you could tailor the information.
5. They say: ‘Now is not good.’
Respect their time and leave it, for now. But do not hang up until you have agreed a time to call back unless you hear extreme frustration creeping into their voice, in which case you beat a hasty retreat and discretely make a note to yourself to schedule another call.
Trust objections can hurt.
‘I haven’t heard of you’, ‘I’ve read bad things about you’, ‘exactly how many customers do you have?’ and so on.
Do not take them personally and do not launch into pitch overdrive.
Instead, the best way to handle trust-based sales objections is to view them as a request for more information and reassurance about what you offer and whether you can deliver it.
Give a quick summary of how you can add value, and refer to other customers you have helped.
If their objection centres on negative feedback try to understand the root of the issue as they’ve presented it and, if you’ve done your homework, you should have a frank response ready.
It’s time to dust down that denim jacket and brush off those three chords: a lot of prospects cling tightly to their love of the Status Quo.
The fact is, for everyone who finds change sexy, there are three or four who deep down find it scary. There are many potential reasons for this and your job is to understand what lies behind this fear of change in order to help things move forward.
Here are the usual suspects:
‘I’m not sure I’m senior enough to make a decision on this scale.’
‘I’m sold but I’m not sure I can sell it to other stakeholders.’
‘The solution looks like more trouble than the problem’
‘I’m not convinced the solution will do all you say it will.’
‘I’ve been stung once and I’m not about to stir another hornet’s nest.’
Some ways of dealing with these include:
Emphasising your levels of customer support and training.
Using testimonials from others who have made the change.
Offering to help prepare ‘internal pitch’ material and attend internal meetings.
Maintain a focus on outcomes rather than process.
Make sure you keep their eyes on the prize.
Join our newsletter
Get the latest B2B sales and marketing tips, straight to your inbox
This bunch of ‘get out’ clauses are not to do with sales objections on the basis of age (‘disco dancing at 85 – I don’t think so…’) but on the basis of decision-making capability (aka buying power).
The best way to view these is as a welcome gateway rather than an impossible to catch getaway.
They’re not actually an objection at all: they’re a disguised route to reaching the actual decision makers involved.
Ask respectfully for the name of the relevant person/people.
Equally respectfully, don’t agree to wait for them to contact you: you need to be in control of communication flow.
Keep your foot on the gas by setting up a joint meeting.
Should your prospect foresee any difficulties selling the product within their organisation you simply place yourself firmly in the driving seat – after all, your foot is already on the gas!
These objections require you to show just what value your solution adds.
But making a powerful enough case actually requires more than this: your solution must overcome the ‘that’s nice…’ pay-off too.
To do this you must address your prospect’s priorities to ensure your solution moves from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must-have’.
If you have done your research and listened this shouldn’t be too hard. Keep in regular contact and tailor conversations and information shared to address only how your product can solve their immediate problems.
Try these sorts of questions to reach this understanding:
‘What is it that frustrates you about X?’
What’s sapping time and resources?’
‘If you could improve just one thing about X, what would it be?’
‘How have you tackled X so far? Why do you think this isn’t working for you?
‘Are there any competitors handling this in a way you admire? What is it they do differently?’
Objections open doors to help you close deals
An objection is an invitation to open doors.
It may be offered as an attempt to close conversations but handled with care and practice it can actually help you to move on not clear out.
Prepare for sales objections, expect sales objections and, ultimately, embrace observations. It’s easier said than done, but whoever said anything was going to be easy?
Here’s what the smart money says:
‘A mediocre person tells. A good person explains. A superior person demonstrates. A great person inspires others to see for themselves.’
Harvey Mackay, Bestselling author of Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door
‘You have to drop your sales mentality and start working with your prospects as if they’ve already hired you.’
Jill Konrath, bestselling author of More Sales Less Time
‘When the selling gets tough, the deal gets closing.’