A couple of years ago, I was asked by a senior leader to design a program that would help the sales team qualify more deals. The biggest obstacle to closing new business was how the team was managing customer objections. As the customer mentioned an objection, some reps on the phone would become defensive and start to justify the merits of our company or product. Others just took the objection at face value, hung up and moved on to the next customer on their list. However you look at it, these are missed opportunities.
Objections are inevitable but should never be seen as a door slamming closed in your face. The key is to understand why the customer is objecting – you must take the time to uncover this if you hope to move forward in a mutually beneficial way. While customers may object for many reasons, let’s take a look at few common causes:
- May simply be lack of knowledge: “We don’t need a mobile solution.”
- May be a specific, warranted concern: “Your price is higher than everyone else.”
- May represent a hidden agenda: The customer has a preference or incentive to use a different product but doesn’t say that outright.
- May be a perception issue: “The Cloud isn’t secure.”
- We may not be clear about their interests: “That’s not a priority for me this year.”
Take action: Think about the objections you receive in your line of business. Write down an example for each of the above types of objections. The techniques in this article will assist you with these and many more that you’re likely to face. You may not overcome them every time, but at least you didn’t give up before even trying.
Now that you have written down the most common objections, here are some of the top tactics for handling them:
Tactic #1: Gratitude
Say “Thank You!” Always thank your customer when they put an objection in front of you because this is an opportunity to address it and move on with your deal. In fact, ask them about all of their concerns and objections right up front and you’ll receive even more opportunities to turn the table to your advantage. Don’t forget, an objection is better than a “no” because it gives you some place to begin the conversation. I can’t tell you the number of times a simple thank you has helped to diffuse a situation with an angry or upset customer and get me on my way to solving their problem or getting them back on the happy train.
Tactic #2: Empathize
Empathy is a way to connect with your customer on a personal level, show you care and that you’re listening. All of us have had to say “no” at one time or another, and in business, you’re not always speaking to the decision maker. Often times, they’re just the messenger so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by getting defensive. After thanking the customer for bringing the objection to your attention, empathize in a way that will help further diffuse the situation. For example: I hear this a lot, I’m sorry you feel that way, it sounds like this has been very frustrating, I hear what you’re saying and I think I can help. By empathizing with the customer, they’re more likely to open up and share more.
Tactic #3: Let the Discovery Begin
Now that you’ve begun to diffuse the situation, take your time to uncover what’s really going on. Good customer discovery always focuses on asking open-ended questions. If the customer can respond with a “yes” or “no,” then you’ve got to rephrase your question. This is a lot harder than it sounds and it takes practice to develop this ability. You can test yourself at home or with a friend – have a conversation with someone and only ask them open-ended questions. If you get stuck, just do what every 4 year old does and ask “why?” — you’ll be amazed at how powerful that little question can be! Building rapport is equally important during the discovery phase. Check out the recent blog article titled “Your Best Sales Prospecting Asset is You” for some great tips on building rapport and trust.
Tactic #4: Ask, Probe, Confirm
Now that you’ve got the questions flowing, it’s important to keep the conversation moving further and deeper. As the customer responds to your open-ended questions, you should probe further by asking more questions about what they’ve just said. If at any time you don’t understand something, ask them to clarify. A great example of this tactic is when the customer mentions an acronym or other words specific to their company or business process. Experts say that it takes at least 4-5 layers of questions to really uncover the pain or nature of the objection. Take your time and keep asking questions until you truly understand the reason for the objection and they’ve satisfied you’re curiosity. Finally, restate what you heard in your own words and ask them to confirm that you’ve understood them correctly. Barry Rhein published a great whitepaper about the power of open-ended discovery questions titled “15 Sure Fire Ways to Qualify any Prospect.”
Tactic #5: Show Them The Value
To keep your customer around for the long haul, they must see value in your product or service. The purpose of good discovery is to understand what’s important to them, why it matters, and what their business would be like without your product or service. When you uncover a pain, your next step should be to quantify what that pain is costing the business. If the customer continues to object or restate the same objection then you’re not asking the right questions to align your value to their pain. Pain can cost a company in a different ways; lost revenue, wasted time, customer satisfaction, employee turnover and more. GuruGanesha Khalsa of Sandler Training fame provides a great example of aligning pain to value using this example: By taking the pain point and expanding on it, the rep can then encourage the customer or prospect to quantify the problem in business and personal terms thereby convincing them that purchasing a product/service to resolve the issue is worth the investment.
Tactic #6: Back It Up With Proof & Customer References
Now that you’ve gone through steps 1-5, it’s time to back up your statements with industry research, customer references or customer success stories to prove the value of your product or solution. For research, find out what analyst firms say about your industry or product and incorporate this data into your conversations. I’ve had great success getting new customers interested by mentioning what leading industry analysts say about our products. Customer references are another great tool because those stories often represent a pain or objection that was overcome with success. I challenge everyone I mentor to learn at least 3 new and relevant customer stories a month. Overtime, your stories will set you apart from others and give your customers another reason to trust you with their business. I’ve never seen another company sell it better through customer stories than salesforce.com. Take a look at the customer stories on our website and see firsthand how you could leverage the value of references for your business.
Managing objections requires practice. Take these 6 rules and apply them to your business. You’ll see very quickly that they do work. We saw immediate increases in qualified leads and higher close rates in a very short time by employing these techniques because we were able to demonstrate how our product can be used to overcome real pain in their business.
Peter Drucker once said that “The quality in a product or service is not what you put into it, it’s what the customer gets out of it.” Think about what’s in it for the customer, take what you’ve learned from your discovery and wrap your solution in terms of values and benefits that will uniquely help them – this is how you delight your customers.
Please share your own tips and techniques for managing objections in the comments section below.
By Daryl Spreiter, Senior Manager Onboarding, Curriculum & Coaching at salesforce.com