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'What do they know?' Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

What is the best way to handle a prospect's objections?

Traditionally, salespeople have been taught that objections are good and that they often represent a buying signal or mean that a prospect is interested. Questions are often buying signals, but objections certainly are not.

Objections represent obstacles that the prospect must overcome before a sale can be made. Prospects must overcome their own objections. You can only facilitate in this process. You cannot do it for them.

Too often, I see sales reps counter an objection with an argument that makes a great deal of sense to the rep. However, prospects are often unmoved by the salesperson's explanation. In fact, the salesperson's counterargument often makes them that much more emphatic in their support of the objection, which is clearly the opposite of what the salesperson wants.

The better tactic is to first nurture prospects and validate their feelings and concerns without necessarily admitting the truth of the objections. The next step is to reverse -- ask a question in response to the prospects' objection to get them to come up with a solution they feel comfortable with.

Once I had a prospect who was dismayed by the fact that my consulting fees were twice as much as those of a competitor. When confronted by this objection, I was tempted to overcome it by explaining how my consulting and the training that came with it were superior. However, had I done this, I would have elicited a debate that would have been difficult to win.

Instead, I acknowledged his concern and showed empathy. I then asked him why he thought my training was more expensive, and he suggested that my training program and the methodology I used were superior. I politely agreed.

Then he suggested it was possible that my competitor was less experienced. I told him that he might be right. He also suggested that this guy needed the business more than I did and was willing to negotiate. Every time he came up with an explanation that made sense, I reinforced it.

I could have given him the same explanation, but he would have been far less likely to agree. Because he came up with answers to his own objections, he was far more comfortable with the conclusion.

Whose ideas do we tend to like more? Someone else's or our own? We always like our own ideas better. The salesperson is responsible for helping prospects come up with their own reasons for doing what we want them to do without putting words in their mouth. It takes skill and patience, but the results are always better this way.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a resource for companies that want to increase sales at higher margins. Send comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or check out his Web site at www.totaldevelopment.com. Lewis can be reached by phone at (877) 933-9110.