By: Ray Makela on June 3rd, 2015
Handling Objections in Sales in 4 Steps
"Other times, you're doing some piece of work and suddenly you get feedback that tells you that you have touched something that is very alive in the cosmos." - Leonard Nimoy
Getting feedback is a gift – you can choose to receive it that way or not. As Nimoy’s quote suggests, feedback can tell you that you’ve touched a nerve – whether it is positive or negative it can be invaluable in helping to understand a person’s perspective. This is especially important when you are receiving feedback during a sales call, yet sales professionals are often so focused on giving the “pitch” that they miss the opportunity to really understand what the customer thinks about their solution.
Customer feedback can help you gauge the level of customer interest, identify where your customer finds value in your solution, or highlight issues and concerns they may have. As a sales professional, you must get in the habit of asking for feedback early and often during the sales process, especially when presenting your solution.
Some examples of asking for feedback might include:
- “How does that sound to you?”
- “What are your thoughts about that?”
- “Can you see this as a viable solution for your organization?”
One natural consequence of asking customers for feedback is that they will raise objections. Objections are a normal part of the sales process and can occur for many different reasons and take many forms.
When objections do occur, how you respond to them is often just as important to the customer as what you actually say to address the concern. Really listening to the customer and showing a keen sense of curiosity and empathy can go a long way to helping build the relationship for the long term. Managing feedback and handling opposition are critical selling skills and should be trained, practiced, and coached as part of a comprehensive sales training program.
The four critical steps to take when handling sales objections are summarized in the ACAC model below.
The first step when responding to an objection is to carefully listen and then show empathy. Don’t be patronizing, but take an interest in their concern, try to understand their perspective, and more than anything realize that you can’t argue with their opinion. It may be a misunderstanding, a bias, or a strong opinion, but they are sharing their perspective and you need to acknowledge that they have a right to what they believe. The idea here is that by showing the customer that you are listening to his or her concerns, the customer will get less defensive, and you will gain permission to address the the issue. Avoid getting defensive and resist the temptation to jump in and respond right away! Acknowledging and empathizing is not the same thing as agreeing with the customer – you’re acknowledging that they have a right to bring up a concern and let them know that you’ve heard them. If they raise a concern about the delivery date of your solution, instead of just parroting back “I understand you have a concern about the schedule,” you might say “It sounds like the delivery schedule and timeline is important to you in making this decision, can you tell me more about the concerns you have?”
Taking time to clarify the objection is critical to ensure you understand the underlying issue and that you address the actual concern on their mind. Often customers initially raise one objection but have an important underlying reason that can only be discovered by asking questions and probing.
This approach will also help you avoid sounding confrontational because the objection may be a simple misunderstanding or point of clarification. Clarification questions often give the customer options or preferences to choose from. For example, “Is it the delivery of the initial pilot or the overall implementation schedule that is of greater concern to you?” This allows you to assess the customer’s priorities and also gives you additional insight and options for how you respond.
#3 Address the objection
Once you’ve clarified the objection, you can address the concern by specifically responding to the underlying issues that you’ve uncovered. For instance, did the issue come up because the customer had a misunderstanding about your solution because they have needs you didn’t meet or because they have a preference for your competitor? In many cases, objections are a symptom of the customer not being far enough along on their own buying process to make a decision yet. In such cases, you will need to move back in your sales process to determine if there are new requirements that have been identified or parts of your solution that the customer doesn’t understand.
As with other stages in your sales call, you should be frequently checking for understanding with the customer. This is critical when responding to an objection because you want to ensure the customer understood your response, and assess whether you have appropriately addressed their concern. It’s not enough to present an eloquent response to their concern, the test is whether the customer acknowledges that you have satisfied their concern. The best way is to simply ask them, such as “does our implementation plan and our discussion here address the concern you had about the delivery schedule?” If they don’t seem convinced, then you have more work to do and should admit to yourself that the customer may not be willing to move forward in the sales cycle until you more adequately address their concerns.
By following this simple four-step model, you will have a better chance of addressing the actual concern in the customer’s mind. This will go a long way to earning trust with the customer and fostering a more positive relationship for the future.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.