I was working with a young sales rep the other day when he asked me what was the real secret to gaining control of the conversation when faced with objections from a prospect. I told him that it is planning for them in advance. This is just the opposite of how most reps approach prospecting calls. Instead of planning in advance, they wing it on every call and treat each objection as if it were a unique comment.
But objections are not one-off. There are only a few ways a prospect will tell you no. Most objections you get will come in the form of:
- We are happy where we are/we have it covered
- Not interested enough to talk/meet
- Don’t have the budget
- Too busy to talk/meet
- Send information and I’ll look at it
- Overwhelmed—too many things going on
- Just looking (inbound leads)
Your prospects won’t always use those exact words. You know, instead of saying,
“We’re happy,” they may say, “We’ve been with another company for years and they do a good job for us.”
The words are different, but the intent is the same—we’re happy. Listen for the patterns and you’ll find them and know which category the objection belongs.
To become effective at addressing these excuses, you need to identify all of the potential objections and use a 3-step process to develop simple, repeatable scripts or answers that you become automatic responses. Just like the first script that your company taught you, the one you memorized when you were a rookie, this one is like it, but only for objections.
Why do you want a repeatable practiced answer for objections? Well, it makes your voice tone, your style of speaking, and flow of the conversation sound relaxed, professional, and authentic. More importantly, it can make the conversation feel personal to your prospect.
As with the first script you ever used, it allows your mind to be free to focus on your prospect rather than simply the words you use. Scripts—practiced ones—work so well with objections because you tend to get the same ones over and over again. When you have a practiced script, you won’t have to worry about what to say and that alone moves you much closer to being in control of the conversation.
If you really want to observe the power of a script, listen to the difference when an actor or politician is speaking off script when confronted by reporters or paparazzi as opposed to giving a speech with the aid of a teleprompter or weeks or practice. Onstage they are convincing, but without that script, they stumble over words and make the same mistakes we all make when winging it. It is the same with objections on prospecting calls. Scripts are what make politicians and actors such compelling people to listen to or see.
Some clients have concerns about not sounding like themselves. I can see how they might wonder about that but think about this. If actors and politicians sounded canned, you wouldn’t watch the actor or vote for that politician. That is one of the biggest reasons they practice, practice, practice, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. They work their lines in private and with friends until the words come out in their natural voice. This kind of script is a fabulous way to handle the delivery of your message but you have to practice it.
It isn’t easy. Taking time to write, practice, and learn a script handling objections takes a lot of thought and you can count on spending a lot of time doing it. You already have a habit of saying certain things when you run into objections; now you are simply adjusting what you say. You are analyzing and formalizing something to say that probably isn’t natural to you, but when you learn to repeat it, it will change you process permanently.
Practice with your friends, your partner, with a tape recorder, whatever works for you.
Taking the Wrong Turn
If I have heard the term “overcome objections” once, I have heard it a million times. As a coach, let me suggest that “overcoming objections” is a wrong-headed phrase. It gets used to describe how you might “convince” your prospect that what they are saying is mistaken.
When you think of overcoming something, specifically in sales, it suggests that you can convince your prospect to change their minds; you prevail in the “competition” to have or not have a meeting with them. As some will report, prospects will lie. Car salesmen have a mantra, “buyers are liars.” Here is the thing, they are your clients. They expect you to be argumentative, even disrespectful in your attempt to secure a meeting. Even if you have never behaved this way, various media teach people to feel that way.
Overcoming…convincing… it just doesn’t work. If you have to convince them once, you will have to do it again. There is a fundamental rule of human behavior:
You can’t argue another person into really believing that they are wrong. The more you push, the more they push back.
Even when you do get them to agree to a meeting this way, it is in spite of the disagreement, not because of it. The tactic of “overcoming” builds animosity, distrust, and frustration for both the prospect who feels shamed or bulldozed, and the sales rep who has managed to create deeper resistance and more firm rejection on the horizon with this approach.
More Way Than Just One
There is a better way. Coaches and experienced therapists use it all the time. Rather than attempting to convince or overcome your prospects rejections, acknowledge what you have just heard and validate their right to feel as they do. When you do this, you disrupt your prospects expectations when they put you off with a simple “no.” It turns them towards you, and in some cases, it can physically turn them around and bring them back to you. It works because you are actually listening to them. You are telling them that you care enough to validate their concerns. In that moment they will actually stop and pay attention. That’s a great deal better than the standard pull/push method.
Rather than using the combative language in describing this process, it will always be more effective to convince your prospect early on that you are on their side, and that you have heard them, than to convince them that they are wrong and you are right. It happens in an instant; you have to be adaptive, and quick. You have to honestly believe that you want to help, not make a sale. You have to be committed to not causing injury to your client or yourself.
There are three steps to this process of getting an appropriate yes:
- Acknowledge and validate
Acknowledge and Validate
It is natural for most prospects you contact to immediately resort to the flight or fight response. Just because you encounter it doesn’t mean you give up. The secret is to give their brain’s prefrontal cortex (the thinking part) a chance to manage their fear and anxiety centers in their brain. Your brain and theirs have been wired through millions of years of trial and error to prepare us to survive. The problem is that the “feeling” parts of your brain can’t tell the difference between a lion attack and your request for a meeting, nor does yours distinguish between an alligator and a “no” from your prospect.
Your prefrontal cortex can. Your and their defensive responses engage first. You acknowledging and validating their objection turns on both your and their thinking brain. Suddenly neither of you is a threat to the other.
The practical purpose of acknowledging and validating is to give you something to hold on to until your logical brain catches up, takes over, and manages the disruptive emotions generated by rejection. That’s how you regain your poise and control of the conversation. From your clients’ perspective, the feeling that are not trying to convince them or handle their objection, but demonstrating concern for them and allowing them to be right helps them relax and respond with a more open mind.
We expect all salespeople to act alike. When you tell one no, you can expect a fight. Why else would you be so ugly to a complete stranger? The skill here is to take your clients’ objection and remove the fight, and have your prospect take a step closer, rather than away.
Consider these examples:
“When they say they’ve got it covered, instead of arguing that you can do a better job if only they just give you a shot, you could say, “Fabulous! If you’re happy, you shouldn’t even think about changing! Anyone in your situation certainly has an advisor!” By the way, this kind of response is completely unexpected.
How about this one: “Sorry, I’m too busy.” Don’t argue with them, pleading how you will only take a small amount of their precious time. Say instead, “Of course you are, I figured you would be. Anyone with your position in the firm would be!” Do you see how simply agreeing with them disrupts their thought pattern and turns them—if only for a moment—back towards you?
Here’s another big one. How many prospects say to you: “Ok, please give me some data or information… or promotional stuff…etc.” You can say, “All right, tell me specifically what you are looking for.” When you give that rather unorthodox answer, you call their bluff and force them to engage further with you, and of course there is the follow-up call they just invited you to make, without thinking.
Think of how many times they say, “I’m not interested.” That is your cue to say, “That makes perfect sense. At this point in our conversation most people aren’t.” Here is the interesting part; when you agree to it, when you acknowledge their brain isn’t ready for you to agree with them, they usually move a step closer.
Drop the Sales-speak
At all costs, avoid using words that only salespeople use. Remember, as soon as you drop back into predictable sales speak, you behave as expected, and if you do that, they will do their part and behave as you expect. One phrase you want to avoid when you acknowledge and validate is this: “I understand.” When you say “I understand,” you sound just like every other jerk-off who uses “I understand” as insincere filler so they can get back to pitching their stuff. It demonstrates nothing, no empathy at all, and most prospects use that one phrase as a “tell” that you are not listening and really don’t care.
Remember why you are there, i.e., to simply help them, and with that in mind, just sincerely ask. It will make them feel like it matters to you and you will feel less like a slimy sales guy and more like someone offering them honest solutions for legitimate problems. You can acknowledge and validate perfectly, you can reframe with the best, but if you don’t ask again for commitment, for a meeting, for the qualifying information, whatever it is you are calling about, you won’t get what you want. You have to confidently ask, and remember to ask assumptively. When you ask for a specific commitment of time or information, without any hesitation or awkward pause, directly following your objection script, you can indeed assume that they will answer. You will feel it and so will they.
About half the time, you ask for what you want, they’ll throw out another new objection. Pay close attention to this one because it tends to be closer to the truth than all the others combined. Be ready for it and you will be prepared to handle it like the others and ask again. Just remember, what you never do is fight about any of it. It isn’t worth it for them or for you. I always say that when you get two objections and still can’t get your prospect to agree to your goal, it is time to graciously move on and come back at them another day. Some people say three, some two, but regardless, when you have reached your number, then ask to add them to your 6-month call list and move on. No hard feelings, just make the next call.
Closing the Circle
You are a good sales rep, not a shrink, so keep in mind that it’s really important not to overcomplicate your process. Keep it as simple as you can! You need scripts that work for you and sound natural coming from your mouth and heart. They have to sound like you. Practice until you sound true, authentic, and self-assured. Keep your script simple and easy for you to remember and repeat.
Here are three examples may help:
Prospect: “Look, Frank, I’m busy.”
Rep: “Janet, that’s exactly why I called, I am sure you are very busy.”
Action: Acknowledge and validate: This is a simple statement that gives your logical brain a moment to take control of your emotional brain. By agreeing with her, you immediately disrupt her expectation that you are going to try and talk her out of being busy.
Rep: “Like I said, I figured you would be, so I want to find another time that is better for you.”
Action: Reframe. It also acknowledges that she is busy right now and “reframes” what she thinks is the next natural question by asking her to think about a more convenient time.
Rep: “How about we meet for 20 minutes next Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. instead?”
Action: Ask. This makes an assumptive, direct, and specific time limited request that she can say yes or no to.
Prospect: “We’re not interested.”
Rep: “It is a perfectly normal answer, Jack. Actually, that is what a lot of my current clients said the first time I called.”
Action: Acknowledge and validate. “Most people tell me they aren’t interested before they see how much I can save them. I don’t know if my service will be a good fit for you and your company, but doesn’t it make sense for us to at least get together for a short meeting to find out?”
Action: Reframe and Ask. “How about Friday at 2:00 p.m. for about 20 minutes? I’ll buy the coffee.”
Prospect: “We’re really happy with our current provider.”
Rep: “That’s fantastic! I am glad to hear it. So few people actually are.” Action: Acknowledge and validate.
Rep: “I get it, if you are getting great rates and great service, you should never think about changing. So how about all I do is come by and get to know you a little better. And even if it doesn’t make sense to do business with me at the moment, I can at least give you an idea of what we do and a competitive quote that will help you keep those other guys honest.”
Action: Reframe and Ask.
Rep: “How about I come by on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m.? We should be done by lunch.”
Find a winning horse…
Sometimes, no matter how nice and good you are, no matter how well prepared you are, the person on the other end of the line will tell you to “go screw yourself” or slam the door in your face or the phone in your ear. Then there will be the ones that scream “Don’t ever call me again…ever!” or this is a favorite I heard reported by a client: “It will be a cold day in hell before I ever buy something from you or your company!”
Not everyone has good manners. Since you are interrupting people, they’ll sometimes show you the worst side of themselves. Be ready for them to sometimes they make comments that are very pointed and personal, particularly from someone you never met.
Maybe you caught them at a bad moment, e.g., the boss just told them that they are a loser with no future, and you were lucky enough to be a convenient human punching bag for their vexations and self-hate. On the other hand, sometimes they are just miserable assholes. Just put them in the dead file, move on to the next person and never look back.
If that’s how they act, they just aren’t worth it. Like my daughter used to say…”say bye bye…”
I’d love to hear about how handling objections is working for you. If you want to share your scripts and pick up ideas from other sales professionals, join the objection discussion at frankhopkinscoach.com
Schedule some time and we can talk about how things are going and where you would like to go.
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Blount, J. Fanatical Prospecting
Useem, M. Leading Up
Hill, N. Think and Grow Rich