Almost every traditional book on sales methodologies has a section on overcoming objections. The techniques proposed often seem to be manipulative and self-serving. They often come across like an attempt to outwit the customer.
The problem lies in our choice of words. When someone “objects” to something, they are expressing disagreement, disapproval, refusal or opposition. The language is inherently confrontational. We’re applying the wrong mental model when we label our customers’ legitimate questions as objections - and we’re making it harder to deal with them.
Because, most of the time, our customer’s “objection” isn’t actually a statement of disagreement, disapproval, refusal or opposition - it’s simply an expression of an unresolved concern…
Concerns should be encouraged
Let’s face it; it would be surprising if any person or organisation, facing a significant buying decision, didn’t have some concerns. In fact, if they didn’t express any concerns, we might wonder whether they were fully engaged in the process.
And it’s surely better that our prospective customer’s concerns are openly expressed rather than kept to themselves. When we think of an “objection” as something that needs to be confronted, we’re less likely to seek them out than if we think of them as natural concerns that need to be addressed.
So encouraging our customers to articulate their concerns is a helpful strategy. It helps us to understand more about their decision making process, and the stage they may have reached in their buying journey.
Selling the bigger picture
More importantly, it opens up a broader conversation. When we talk in terms of objections, we tend to narrow our thinking to dealing with their negative or ambivalent feelings about our company, our solution or our offer. But those are just a fraction of the factors that could derail a project.
Their concerns could include:
- How they might achieve consensus with their colleagues on the decision team.
- How they can be confident that the project they are championing will deliver the expected results.
- How they can persuade their organisation to fund their project ahead of other competing investments.
- The impact of the decision on their staff or colleagues, or on their own reputation as a competent manager and a safe pair of hands.
- They might be concerned about whether they actually need to change anything, and whether they might be better off sticking with the status quo.
It's not the obivous objections that kill our chances
Here’s the problem: if we continue to embrace a narrowly-focused, objection-handling mindset, the chances are that we will never uncover many of these concerns, or be given the opportunity to help our prospective customer to resolve them.
You see, most of the time, it’s not the objections that we get told about that kill us: it’s the concerns that we fail to address that prevent us from winning what might otherwise have been a mutually successful and profitable project.
Learning from concerns
As well as helping us deal more effectively with an active sales opportunity in its current phase and form, proactively uncovering and resolving concerns can also help us to learn how to run more effective sales campaigns.
If we can anticipate, uncover and address commonly-expressed concerns earlier in the sales process, we can resolve them before they unnecessarily delay an opportunity in the its later stages. If we can pre-emptively raise and address common concerns before the customer recognises or articulates them we can reinforce our position as a truly trusted advisor.
And by thinking of our role as resolving concerns rather than handling objections, we end up adopting an entirely more productive, non-confrontational and collaborative mindset in our relationship with our existing and prospective customers.
So - think back to the last sales training course you put your sales people through. Review your current sales enablement materials. Do they talk about handling objections or about uncovering and resolving concerns? If it’s still mostly about handling objections, you may be sending your sales people out armed with entirely the wrong mental model.
And that's something you should certainly be concerned about...
A fellow of Association of Professional Sales, Bob Apollo is the founder of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners. He works with ambitious B2B-focused organisations that have complex sales environments, helping them to establish consistently scalable sales and marketing machines that deliver predictable revenue outcomes. Follow him on Twitter at @bobapollo.