Responding (not reacting) to objections (part 1)

Known for his Dale Carnegie training expertise, Terry Siebert is writing to inspire leaders to reach their greatest potential. Leadership, today more than ever, may mean the difference between closing the doors or opening new markets. Every month, he'll post help with mindset, business tools and more. Read Full Bio

One of the more popular downloads on our Dale Carnegie Training website is a piece on handling and overcoming objections. This is really no surprise in today’s competitive and tough sales environment. Yes, it is more challenging out there than it was a few years ago. And that sad truth applies to many, many market segments.

Dealing with objections requires us to practice careful, sensitive listening skills along with positive, factual responses to customer concerns. Of course, as with any part of the sales process, it helps to have a strategy. And just like driving a car, this strategy becomes second nature if we understand it, practice it, and are committed to using it when objections occur. Here is a proven, five-step process that tends to get better results than the usual “blame-deny-justify” approach:

Step 1: Cushion

Just like a cushion makes your tush feel more comfortable when you’re sitting on a hard surface, the same is applicable in the first step in dealing with an objection. When you hear the objection, the cushion, in its most basic form, empathizes with the customer. For example, “I understand how you might feel that way.”

The cushion never agrees with the objection, which would validate it in the mind of the customer. The cushion also never disagrees with the objection, which would start a confrontational scenario. If more salespeople just responded with a cushion to the objections they hear, I am convinced that they would be building better relationships with their customers. Finally, once the cushion is stated, be careful not to follow it with a “but.” It tends to take the conversation in a negative direction. Rather, use the word “and” – it keeps the discussion on an even plane.

Step 2: Clarify the Objection

Once you have cushioned the objection, you then need to clarify exactly what is behind the customer’s concern. Most sales folks have heard the price objection more than they would like. The danger is that they assume they understand where the customer is coming from. Is it the price, the terms, the financing, the upfront payment, or something else? A good question here is: “Help me understand, exactly what is it about (the customer’s concern) that would cause you to hesitate?” Also, don’t be afraid to dig a bit deeper here – you want to make darn sure you will respond to the real objection. If you are comfortable that you have a good handle on the real objection, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Step 3: Identify Hidden Objections

In this step, you are trying to determine if there are any hidden objections that are not on the table. It is not uncommon for some buyers to hold their cards pretty close. A question that I often use in this step is: “In addition to your concern with (stated objection), is there anything else that would hold you back from going ahead with this proposal?” If I get a positive response, we get that issue on the table as well. If I get a negative response, my next statement would go something like this: “So if we can resolve that concern to your satisfaction, there is really nothing else that is stopping you from going ahead. Is that correct?” This line of questioning is 100% intended to get the real objection(s) on the table to be addressed, and the “smoke-screen objections” off the table.

Step 4: Respond

You will note that we are not responding to the objection until step 4. Many amateur salespeople start with this step by reacting to the initial objection. My next blog will go into more detail regarding how to respond and will also reveal the final step (No. 5) of the process.

Good selling!

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