Much objection-handling training is old and outdated. It was created and developed long ago for the way people used to buy and sell. The strategies and tactics were designed to "handle" or "overcome" a contact’s objections. These legacy strategies and training were not created for our current ACDC environment (one of accelerating, constant, disruptive change). They are tone deaf and at odds with what clients need from a consultative salesperson.
What may sound like an objection to your ears may not actually be an objection. It may be a real client concern, one that may cause a contact to avoid making a decision. There is a difference between treating what a client says as an objection and having a conversation with a client who has a reasonable concern or fear that prevents them from moving forward. It is often easier for a person or a group who is uncertain to avoid deciding. Objection handling needs to change from old-school "handling" or "overcoming" to resolving a client’s concerns and providing them the certainty they need to make the changes that will improve their results.
Why Objection-Handling Training Must Change
When a contact replies to a request for a meeting by saying, "Can you just send me some information?" salespeople have been taught to handle that time objection by asking, "What information would you like to see?" This approach feels like an argument, especially when the contact has no real interest in receiving the salesperson's sales collateral. (No one ever calls the salesperson who fails to send their sales collateral to chastise them for not being reliable.) Instead of viewing a client’s request for information as an objection, a salesperson can address it as a concern that their time will be wasted.
The reason salespeople have trouble handling objections is that sales training lacks a theory that can help them recognize a client’s underlying concerns. For all the talk about empathy in business and sales, acknowledging what the client is saying and why would be a good start. Salespeople will continue to struggle with objections until they are trained to listen to what said the client is communicating.
Addressing the Real Concern
The Oxford Dictionary defines concern as "A feeling of interest, solicitous regard, or anxiety; a worry; (now frequently) a worry or issue raised by an individual or group in connection with a particular matter." You might read this as fear. Telling a person their concern is not valid not only lacks empathy, but it is also an ineffective strategy for creating the confidence to act on a particular matter.
Objection-handling training should start with a sales strategy and the idea that a client's concern is valid. It should also provide structures that help salespeople understand why the contact has that concern and what they might need to resolve it. No matter what the salesperson might say in response to a client's objection, if the underlying concern is left unaddressed, the deal will stall. Without the certainty that comes from having their concern resolved, the contact will not be able to continue with their decision. Addressing clients’ concerns and providing the certainty they need is an area that is ripe for improvement. It also can lead to a surge in sales effectiveness.
Here is an example of a common objection and how one might be taught to discuss the concern effectively. A salesperson asks their contact who else will need to be part of the sales conversations about a potential change. The contact says, "I will be the one making this decision." It is unlikely a single stakeholder is going to make a significant decision without the consensus of other people inside their organization. Instead of trying to push the contact to bring in other stakeholders, the salesperson should consider the underlying reason for this statement. The real concern is often the contact’s fear of losing control of the initiative, or worry that they will make a mess of the process by bringing in people who may try to take control or stop it.
A salesperson who understands what was communicated might reply, "It's our experience that without consensus, it's difficult to get an initiative like this green-lighted. If we can bring in the people who are going to get to weigh in on this decision, I'll make sure all communication comes through you, and I will make sure you don't lose control of this process. Who do you trust enough to join us in our next conversation and who should wait to bring in until later?"
Why Deals Stall and End in No Decision
In The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, the eighth commitment is to resolve the client's concerns. You’ll also find a free course on this topic on the Closing Simulator. One reason clients pull the reins is that they are still uncertain. When a client isn't sure about the change, it's natural that stakeholders are concerned about making a mistake. Because objection-handling training does not address client uncertainty and real concerns, deals stall or end in the decision to do nothing, or the client decides to wait until later when things settle down.
No one can predict the future with 100 percent confidence, and the greater the perception of risk, the more people will have concerns. Objection-handling training needs to start with the idea that the client is going to have concerns they need help resolving, a concept missing from most sales approaches. Another thing existing training lacks is an approach to forestall client concerns by resolving them before they show up.
Professional B2B selling evolves to address what clients need, even if too many organizations are slow to react. When changes occur in the client's world, you need new strategies and tactics that meet their new needs—you need a new Revenue Growth Blueprint.
Objection-handling training is lagging, failing to deliver what clients need from salespeople. What may sound like an objection is really a coded message from a contact who does not want to share their real concern. Training will need to change so it is relevant to a contact’s true concern.