by Jeb Blount, author of “Objections: The Ultimate Guide for Mastering The Art and Science of Getting Past No“
No may be a tiny word, but for salespeople it’s the most dreaded word in the English language. Nothing causes your heart to sink quite like an objection from a prospective customer. This is true not just because it presages a negative impact on your income, but also because it’s incredibly painful to hear. It’s no coincidence that “objection” rhymes with “rejection” — and the latter is one of the deepest, darkest, most primal human fears.
There’s no way to avoid objections. They’re going to happen. What you can do is learn how to rise above the emotional disruption they cause and, hopefully, salvage the sale.
There are four types of objections you encounter in the sales process, and they occur at various points in the journey. They can stop a sale before it ever gets started, derail your efforts in the middle of the conversation, or shut down the deal at the end after weeks, even months, of hard work.
The good news is that when you arm yourself with an arsenal of turnaround frameworks, you can face these roadblocks and get past them so you can move onto the next stage.
Here are the four types of objections salespeople must field, along with a few tactics to help you get in the door, shorten the sales cycle, increase pipeline velocity, avoid stalled deals, and, of course, close the sale.
TYPE 1: Prospecting Objections.
Of all objections, these are the most severe. They’re often harsh and cold, and at times, flat-out rejection. People are crazy busy and see little value in spending time with salespeople. Through a combination of reflex responses, brush-offs, and objections (RBOs), they do their best to get rid of you. For this reason, millions of salespeople treat prospecting like the plague and avoid interrupting prospects at any cost. However, if you want success in your sales career, then you’ve got to interrupt prospects.
Know that you are going to get prospecting objections, and they will trigger your disruptive emotions. But it is possible to rise above your emotions and become effective at turning around prospecting objections. For RBOs during prospecting, deploy a simple but powerful three-step framework:
1. Ledge. A ledge is a memorized, automatic response to perceived or real rejection that does not require you to think. Using a ledge gives your logical brain the moment it needs to catch up, rise above disruptive emotions, and gain control.
2. Disrupt. Your prospect has been conditioned from hundreds of prospecting calls and expects you to act like every other salesperson. When they tell you no, they have an expectation for what you will most likely do next. To turn around your prospect’s RBO, deliver a statement or question that disrupts this pattern and pulls the prospect toward you. For example, when they say they’re busy, instead of arguing with them that you will take only a little bit of their time, disrupt their pattern by agreeing with them: That’s exactly why I called; I figured you would be, and I want to find a time that’s more convenient for you. Or, when they say, “I’m not interested,” respond with: That makes sense. Most people aren’t the first time I call, and that’s exactly why we should meet.
3. Ask. Here’s where most prospecting RBO turnarounds fall apart. Many salespeople are hesitant to ask again. But you must control your emotions and ask again for what you want, without hesitation. When you ask, about half of the time they’ll throw out another RBO — one that tends to be closer to the truth. Be prepared to turn it around and ask again. (Just don’t fight. It isn’t worth it. Once you get two RBOs, graciously move on and come back to them another day.)
TYPE 2: Red Herrings.
A red herring is an irrelevant topic or issue that gets introduced into the conversation by a stakeholder that distracts you from your focus or diverts your attention from the objective of your sales conversation. A stakeholder, typically early in the conversation, will throw out a red herring — sometimes to challenge you, sometimes because they don’t know what else to say, sometimes because it’s their habitual behavior pattern, and sometimes because they have a valid concern or question.
A red herring might be something like: “We are already in discussions with your competitor,” or, “Just so you know, we’re not buying anything from you today.” Do not take the bait! You must avoid getting drawn in by red herring objections at all costs. When you chase red herrings, you blow up sales calls, skip steps in the sales process, hand control over to stakeholders, and become their puppet. Red herrings, managed poorly, are emotional hijackers that turn sales calls into train wrecks.
Moving past red herrings requires massive emotional control, so you need a simple and habitual system that keeps you in control — PAIS: Pause, Acknowledge, Ignore, Save.
- Push the pause button and collect your emotions.
- Acknowledge and let the stakeholder know that you heard them. You might say:That makes sense or I get that or This sounds important.
- Ignore the red herring unless it comes up again, or…
- Save it and address at a later, more appropriate time.
My default is to ignore the red herring unless it comes up again, because I’ve learned, over a lifetime in the sales profession, that they almost never do. I acknowledge the concern, and my favorite way to do this is to simply take notes. Writing down what they say lets them know that I think it is important without getting pulled in. Then I ask an unrelated open-ended question that gets my stakeholder talking.
TYPE 3: Micro-Commitment Objections.
Throughout the sales process, you’ll ask stakeholders for next steps and micro-commitments. Micro-commitments are a series of low-risk commitments that lead down the path to a final buying commitment. Asking for them and consistently getting to the next step keeps the momentum rolling. You must never, ever leave a conversation with a stakeholder without a firm next step.
Here’s the problem: The people you are dealing with don’t always see the value in spending more time with you, so they hit you with brush-offs to make you go away. The good news is micro-commitment objections are rarely harsh and, unless you totally bombed, are rarely outright rejection. For this reason, the key to getting past these objections is showing poise and confidence and helping your prospect see the value of scheduling the next step.
Once you explain the value in a way that they understand, the prospect will agree to the next step. Value, however, is in the eye of the beholder. They want to know What’s in it for me? — and you must answer that question. Step into your prospect’s shoes and write down why it should matter to them. What is the value trade for investing more time with you? Then craft compelling value statements that articulate this in your stakeholder’s language and terms.
Keep it simple. Remember that these are micro-commitments — small steps and low-risk requests. It’s easy to get stakeholders to say yes. These value statements don’t need to be profound or complex. They should not be pitchy. Avoid jargon that makes you sound like a marketing brochure. You don’t need to be perfect — just good enough to get to the next step.
TYPE 4: Buying Commitment Objections.
When you ask people to make buying decisions — sign contracts, hand over credit cards, issue POs, switch vendors, and accept your proposal — you will get objections. Getting past buying commitment objections is often the moment of truth that determines whether or not you will close the deal. The outcome pivots on your ability to gain control over your emotions, guide the conversation, and influence your stakeholder’s emotions.
Unlike prospecting objections and micro-commitment objections, the number of possible buying commitment objections isn’t finite and predictable. They are situational. You’ll deal with price and budget objections, timing objections, status quo objections, need to talk it over with my boss or committee objections, spouse objections, buying authority objections, competitor objections, need to think it over objections, need and fit objections, and terms and conditions objections, among others.
Dealing with buying commitment objections requires nuance, patience, influence, and situational awareness. The process of getting past no becomes more collaborative and will seamlessly shift from objection to negotiation. The following five-step framework will help you gain emotional control and influence your buyer to say yes:
1. Relate. Acknowledge and relate to the objection. Don’t treat them like a number, discount their concern, challenge their point of view, judge them, or start an argument.
2. Isolate and clarify. Ask questions to isolate the “real” objection, issue, or concern. Clarify your understanding before addressing. The key here is to ask open-ended questions that get your buyer talking and expressing their real concerns.
3. Minimize. Remind the stakeholder of their problems, pain, threats, opportunities, and the yesses you’ve collected.
4. Ask. Ask again and assume the yes.
5. Fall back to an alternative. If you still get a no, offer an alternative commitment with a lower perceived risk. Have your fallback positions planned prior to your closing call.
Practice the worst-case scenarios. Put every potential objection and response on the table and work through the five-step process until you handle them all with ease. I’ve found practice helps build obstacle immunity, prepares you to manage disruptive emotions, and makes it far easier to think on your feet, in the moment. When you plan and practice in advance, you’ll find the actual objections you get at closing are far tamer than what you initially expected.
None of the tips offered here are rigid scripts. That’s because dealing with objections is more an art than a science.
I prefer to teach turnaround frameworks, not generic scripts, because frameworks make you agile. They give you a set of rails to run on that flex to changing context. They help you manage your disruptive emotions and pull your prospect toward you so that it becomes easier for them to say yes — which is, of course, the salesperson’s favorite word.
Jeb Blount is the author of nine books and is among the world’s most respected thought leaders on sales, leadership, and customer experience. As a sales acceleration specialist, he helps sales organizations reach peak performance fast by optimizing talent, leveraging training to cultivate a high-performance culture, developing leadership and coaching skills, and applying more effective organizational design. His latest book is “Objections: The Ultimate Guide for Mastering The Art and Science of Getting Past No“.