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19.03.2019

Transforming objections, exploiting excuses

6 tips for overcoming obstacles in the sales process

Sometimes it’s really maddening: we’ve done everything to create the perfect offer for our customer. All the meetings seem to have gone well, yet the customer raises an objection

We’re assuming here that you’ve done everything right so far, that your offer has a time limit and that the next step has been defined. Otherwise, it could be that it was failure on your part that has meant the deal cannot be closed and not customer objections at all. Our last blog entry in this series explains how to avoid this.

How do you now overcome the last obstacles to closing the sale? Do you go through all the arguments again and then have to watch how the potential customer distances themselves more and more? Do you become passive and “let the customer come to you”? Are you afraid of wasting your time but are also somehow reluctant to give up so early when a sale could still be made? What to do, how to decide?

Here are a few tips that might shed some light on the matter. 

1. Objection ≠ excuse

Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between objections and excuses. An objection is a reason that seems valid enough to the customer to not do or agree to something, in our case, not to buy. Whether it’s rational or emotional, justified or not, it can be examined and questioned from different perspectives, and overcome with different techniques. If this succeeds, the obstacle to the sale is thus removed and the sale is usually closed.

An excuse, however, is a pretext – a way of concealing the real reason for not buying.

This is a significant difference, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. If the customer doesn’t want to tell us the real reason, it doesn’t matter whether this results from uncertainty, exaggerated politeness or manipulative intentions – if you treat an objection in the same way as an excuse, it’s easy for the customer to feel driven into a corner and thus go on the defensive, which in no way helps to close the sale.

Practical tip
This is how to recognise an objection:

  • Your counterpart looks at you directly, maybe even defiantly.
  • The objection sounds interrogative or is raised in the form of a question and ....
  • ... reflects the content and facts of the preceding discussions.

This is how to recognise an excuse:

  • The person you are talking to tends to avoid eye contact or breaks it off quickly.
  • The excuse is often used with justifying or mitigating introductory remarks and ...
  • ... usually doesn't tie in with the content that has been discussed, but instead pulls an unexpected argument out of nowhere.

2. Objection ≠ objection

Every salesperson knows that classifying objections can be tricky. If, for example, the customer says: “You know, I’m happy with my existing solution and I’m tied into a contract.” This could actually mean many things:

  • A lack of information: The customer doesn't know the full extent of what your solution can offer and doesn't see any benefit in it for themselves.
  • A truthful objection: They really do have a solution and a contract.
  • A tactical objection: They actually want to buy from you but would like to build up some price pressure.
  • An excuse: Maybe they don't have time right now, or they don't want to talk to you because they don't like your outfit. Perhaps they're not authorised to make the purchase decision, but don't want to disclose this, have been tasked to get rid of you, etc., etc.

3. Objection ≠ obstacle to a sale

Whatever kind of objection you’re faced with: embrace it! Because objections normally also signal an intention to buy. The customer is looking into the purchase, considering your offer and taking it seriously. Now it comes down to how you react.

First of all, remember a few basic rules of communication:

  • Listen - to deal with the objection, you must first understand it.
  • Take it seriously - neither interrupt nor lecture the customer
  • Stay professional - never take objections personally

Dealing with objections isn’t a reason to come to blows. Even if, after your discussion, the customer is convinced that you understand more about the subject than they do, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll buy from you. If you want to relieve their concerns, you need to address them. Do this cleverly and turn the majority of objections into the building blocks of a successful sale.

Practical tip - The Custom Wishlist
Always list the points on which you agree, and not just the customer’s objections. Confident and upbeat, present this list the next time you talk to them:

“We’ve already agreed on so many things, such as [your list]. Now let’s clarify the remaining outstanding issues and do things right. Are there any important issues that we haven’t been able to resolve for you yet?"

Although these issues are on your list too, if you don’t initially mention any specific points, you’ll give yourself a tactical advantage and gain information –  anything your customer doesn’t mention again is probably less important to them. Of course, the customer may forget something that’s important to them. If you notice this, ask specific questions and earn extra points as an expert and an attentive listener.

4. Information deficit => valuable feedback

Do you find yourself facing the same objections with depressing regularity? Then you need to work on your sales pitch.  If the objection “too expensive” often comes up, it may be that you’re mentioning the price too early, i.e. before the value has been made sufficiently clear. (Interestingly, the objection that something is “too expensive” is rarely heard from a customer who genuinely can’t afford the solution. If anything, they’re usually looking for an excuse, but that’s a whole other story.)

Recurring objections mainly fall into the category of information deficits and mean that we know too little about the customer’s needs or don’t cater to them enough, that our target groups may not have been sufficiently defined or that all our customers are lumped together – all this is more common than you might think.

Practical tip
Systematically note your customers’ objections in order to eliminate recurring ones before they arise. You should also focus specifically on the different needs of your target groups. This makes your sales pitch significantly more efficient and saves you a lot of time.

5. Excuse => qualification criterion

Anyone who needs an excuse is on the defensive. In general, it’s an unsatisfactory situation for the salesperson if the customer is unable or unwilling to say what’s holding them back. We’re assuming that you’ve already checked in advance that they’re the right contact person and are authorised to make purchase decisions, otherwise this will be the reason behind their defensiveness.

But should you nevertheless make an effort with them? Does such a defensive attitude prevent any chance of a sale, or does the customer just need a little more time? Maybe you need to talk to a completely different person? This is something you need to find out now. In general, if the customer wants to bide their time, their wish must be respected. Letting them know that you’ve seen through their excuse won’t achieve anything, other than increased resistance on their part. But you shouldn’t give up either, because surprisingly often, you’ll still be able to close the sale. So what should you do? As is so often the case in sales, tact and instinct are required.

Practical tip
Make it easy for the person you’re talking to. They want to escape the whole environment of the sales pitch, so comply with their wish and let them go, elegantly and politely:

“Let’s leave it there, now that you’re familiar with the advantages of our product. You can contact us at any time to make a new appointment.” 

If they then relax, you can continue talking to them now that you’re not actively trying to sell them something: “How did you like the presentation in general?” This will give you feedback and, with a bit of luck, the opportunity, after the “official” end of your sales pitch, to again show the customer how much better off they would be if they go through with the sale:

“Did you know that XY% of our customers from the [insert your customer’s industry here] sector have been using our solution for XY years and wouldn’t be without it.”

If in the same breath you also field the arguments and product features that are most important to this particular customer, you’ll have done your best. Either you now manage to arrange a follow-up appointment (or an appointment with someone else who is “the right person to speak to”), or you have a low-priority qualification. 

In this case you can wait 8 to 12 months before asking if anything has changed for the customer in the meantime. Until then, you don’t have to invest any more time in this, unless the customer approaches you of their own accord, something that isn’t that uncommon.

6. True & tactical objection => qualified lead

But what to do with a truthful objection? Let’s stick with our example of “I already have a solution and I’m tied into a contract”. This certainly doesn’t mean that we simply place the customer under “nothing doing”. After all, we’ve managed to get things as far as this objection.

Under these circumstances, it would be an oversight not to ask specific questions in order to obtain important information.

Practical tip
Ask pointed questions:

  • How long is the contract?
  • Are you sure that you'll extend it?
  • Are you completely satisfied? In an ideal world, what else would you want from your solution?

Anyone who has done their homework on the competition may even be able to specifically present one or two features that they know the competitive product does not offer. This strategy allows us to qualify our lead (see here for a blog article on how to do this). It’s also helped us to narrow down the date on which it’s worthwhile contacting them again.

In general, you’ll kill two birds with one stone, because if it’s a tactical objection with which the client only wanted to strengthen their negotiating position, we’ll have gained important arguments for our side and will be stronger when we see them again.

Our next blog post will look at the little toolkit of methods for handling objections that every salesperson should have in their arsenal. Stay tuned!

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