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A common mistake in sales is considering objection handling as a stage in the sales process. When we started in sales or supporting sales, we prepared ourselves for that dreaded, “Yes, but…”. And there it came like a wet fish slapping us across the face.
Well prepared and confident, we delivered our beautifully manufactured response. Time is money; we focused on closing the sale when forecast. Pushing on, we passionately tell our audience everything they could ever need to know about our product.
As a young sales rookie, I remember such encounters. Walking out of the prospect’s office, head high, satisfied I had handled their objection well. I had pushed on with the sales pitch why our product was their ideal choice.
I am looking back at those encounters, I grimace and smile at my young often misplaced confidence. As experienced sales professionals, we know these objections are missed opportunities.
This guide has been written on how to be effective in handling objections. Use the summary below to navigate to an area of interest.
Objections are dangerous encounters if not managed well.
Why the meaning we give to handling objections can be a hidden danger. We uncover the simple truth of why we should focus on the meaning the person objecting gives it.
What is a sales objection?
We uncover the source for objecting and why an objection can slow down a sales engagement. How objections can be the cause for sales forecasting inaccuracies. Provides insight to define an objection clearly. Why we need to understand the deeper emotions to be effective in handling objections.
Constructing an effective response to an objection
Focusing on the intent and type of objection allows us to be more effective in handling objections. Why we need to be prepared for more objections as the sale progresses. How to turn an objection into a sales opportunity.
Take the time to understand the emotions driving an objection
Introduces the Timeline Technique to help anticipate objections. Why we often confuse an objection with a request. Outlines a two-step approach to preparing ourselves to handle objections.
Step into their shoes to understand their perspective
Explains how we make decisions. How using these insights allows us to handle objections better. Guides how to know you are dealing with a fear-based, habitual or irrational objection.
Speed can be our enemy
How speed can create a stand-off. How changing our approach to dealing with objections can move sales leads forward in our sales pipeline. How to slow an objector down to reflect on why they are objecting. Why a challenger mindset helps you better manage objections.
Handling a fear-based and habitual objection
How to handle a fear-based and habitual objection and know the difference. How getting our audience to reflect on their objection is an effective approach to handling objections. Why objections are an opportunity to discover more about our sales leads.
Be prepared to anticipate sales objections
Introduces the two faces on an objection. The importance of timing to anticipate an objection. How we can anticipate our audience’s behaviour and adapt our own to it. How to anticipate pressure and prime our audience for it to build trust. How to anticipate and avoid being disqualified at the end of a sales lead opportunity.
The Seven most common types of sales objections
Provides a simple approach to discovering the intent for objecting. Introduces seven types of objections that we present in severity order.
Sharpen your persuasion skills
Introduces nine persuasion skills we recommend you sharpen. Concludes recommending you keep updated regularly reviewing our Knowledge Hub.
My passion and commitment reciting a well-rehearsed script did not mean I had handled those early customer objections well.
As a young sales rookie, however, I believed the meaning I gave to my response handling their objection was sufficient. Little did I appreciate the meaning I gave my response was not what mattered. It was the meaning my audience gave to my response that mattered.
Handling objections effectively recognise this simple truth. The meaning we give to an objection is often irrelevant. It is the meaning the person objecting gives it that we must focus on understanding and influencing. I discussed this further in a recent sales blog. Why do sales forecasts slip?
Sales Objection Tip: The ability to recognise and overcome an objection is critical to our success. Often how the objection is verbalised hides the underlying concern. Effectively handling objections requires us to understand the intent and having a strategy on how to handle it.
The source for many sales objections is emotional. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we can experience. Think back to any time you felt uncomfortable with what you were being told or experienced. That unsettling feeling would trigger you to object. If the objection is not dealt with to your satisfaction, it will linger on in your mind.
During sales engagements, objections not handled well will slow down or can kill a sale. As a sales rookie, I may have thought I handled objections well. My enthusiasm meant I pushed forward at near light speed dealing with any objections in my path. Such young enthusiasm results in forgetting our audience. We must focus on our audience’s situation and the meaning they are giving to messages we communicate. Forgetting this simple fact is the reason why many deals slip in a sales forecast.
Many years ago, a mentor said to me
“You cannot change someone’s thinking, but you can influence how they perceive their situation that changes their thinking.”
Over the years as my skills developed, I fully appreciated the value held within this guidance.
Often objections are rooted in fear. We must avoid making our audience feel uncomfortable during the sales process. When they do, expect to receive one or more objections.
The RAIN Group provides a 4-Step Guide to Overcoming Sales Objections. They define a sales objection as “an explicit expression by a buyer that a barrier exists between the current situation and what needs to be satisfied before buying from you.” Their four steps are:
The guidance is both practical and well presented. My interest is to understand the deeper emotion of why someone has objected. Only then can its true nature be understood.
Hubspot provides another definition of objection handling. “When a prospect presents a concern about the product/service a salesperson is selling, and the salesperson responds in a way that alleviates those concerns and allows the deal to move forward. Objections are generally around the price, product fit, competitors, and good old-fashioned brush off.”
They continue to present a list of 40 common sales objections. Being effective handling objections allows us to move deals forward to closure. The list is useful and reflects many of the objections we may face during a sales engagement.
Our challenge is remembering all forty during the heat of a sales engagement. My interest is how we can simplify an extensive list of different types of objections.
Sales Objection Tip: The two most important insights we need to find out when handling an objection is
If we knew the intent and type of objection we are dealing with, could we reduce the list of objections into types of objection?
Knowing the intent and type of objection would allow us to construct an effective response to handling it quickly. The outcome of answering that question is this objection handling guide.
It is a compounding challenge – The number of objections we receive will increase the higher we go in an organisation and the closer we get to senior decision makers and influencers. Be prepared that the further we develop our sales engagement, the more objections we need to be prepared to face.
Objections offer us an opportunity to dig deeper. Used well, they are the ideal opportunities to understand our audiences’ situation better. Objections allow us to build more meaningful relationships.
The most effective tool we have to handle objections is our questioning skills.
When receiving an objection, we need to respond with a well-considered question. For example, when someone asks for a reference site visit. Ask,
“Of course. Can you clarify for me what are you expecting to learn from…?”
We need to hold back our enthusiasm in answering their question. Instead, use the opportunity to understand their intent. Ask questions to uncover what is driving their request.
In today’s world of sales, it is not uncommon to have four, five or more people actively involved in deciding to purchase what we are proposing. The buying process is why objection handling is not a stage in the sales process. An objection is specific to each contacts’ situation, their concerns and the relationships we are building.
Working in sales is often like experiencing all four seasons in a year colliding together into one day. We can receive a full spectrum of objections within the same sales account, on the same day, from one or more contacts.
Sales Objection Tip: Once you know their intention for objecting, ask yourself,
“What do they want from me for handling this objection?”
We need to understand how the objector will measure their satisfaction. If we fail to satisfy our audience’s objection, it will persist and work against us.
We may be dealing with a fear-based objection that can be irrational. For example, we may know a reference site will be requested, or an extension to the free trial licence we have issued. Experience has taught us to anticipate these objections before raised.
Using the Timeline Technique, we can better predict their behaviour as they move through the three time-based milestones. Assuming we have managed the sales lead well, then here it comes
“Can we have a reference visit?”
Pause, we should be asking ourselves, “Why do they need to see someone else? What have we not done to give them the confidence to move forward?”. Or we are asked
“Can you extend our trial licence? We are not quite ready to make a decision yet”.
Handle each objection on its own merits. For this one, we should ask ourselves, “Why are they not ready to make a decision yet? What is holding them back from making a decision now?”
There are numerous objections we need to be dealing with in sales. The sheer number of objections we can deal with is the reason Hubspot was able to list 40 common objections. We have become so accustomed to receiving these types of requests we forget they are in fact objections shrouded as a request. Here is a simple two-step approach on how to prepare ourselves to handle an objection.
Sales Objection Tip: Do not be afraid to challenge an objection by responding with a question subtly. It is important to fully understand their intent for raising an objection and how we satisfy it before dealing with it.
Having prepared ourselves, our priority when handling an objection is to step into their shoes to understand their perspective.
Daniel Kahneman wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow. He is the 2011 Nobel Prize Winner in Economic Sciences. In his book, he uncovers fascinating facts surrounding how we make decisions. Taking the time to appreciate these insights means we will be more effective, stepping into our audiences’ shoes to understand their perspective. These insights allow us to better position ourselves to handle all objections we encounter during a sales engagement.
Kahneman describes two different ways the brain forms thoughts. He calls them System 1 and System 2.
The request for a reference visit may be reasonable, habitual, or even fear based.
Before we address which, let us assume we have handled well every step of the sales process. We have covered off every concern. Everyone is comfortable, then we get the “Can we have a reference visit?”
This objection may be habitual, or we may have missed a hidden concern raised behind closed doors. Our job is to find the reason. To do so, we must hold ourselves back from immediately dealing with the symptom, which is the objection. Instead focus on finding the cause, the intent for objecting.
Sales Objection Tip: Focus on how to help the customer decide whether to proceed with your proposal or not.
Too often we launch forward at full speed to deal with the objection. Sometimes we even try to change the other person’s thinking. Lunching forward will often result in both parties digging their heals in.
As I mentioned earlier, only you can change your mind. Have you been in situations when someone else tries to change your mind? I have, and it is annoying to the point I may dig in and end up in a standoff.
The secret to moving people and sales leads forward in the sales pipeline is to change our approach to dealing with objections. We need to be asking questions that prompt our audience to reflect on their instinctive response or request. A response like this one prompts the person objecting to thinking on their request for a moment.
“Of course, but first, can you tell me what you intend to learn from the reference visit?”
Asking this question slows them down. Response question like this one helps those raising objections to reconsider their request. We have moved them from their System 1 response to their more rational System 2 thought process.
Sales Objection Tip: Cultivate a challenger mindset to handle objections. Your passion and conviction will support you to uncover the true intent of objecting.
Our skill as sales professionals can ask the right questions at the right time. To prompt our audience to reflect on their instinctive response or request. If it was a reasonable objection, we have a better insight and well placed to manage it. If not, they will have noticed it was not reasonable and hopefully reconsidered their position. Sometimes the intent for objecting can be intentionally unreasonable. I address how you handle these objections shortly.
Objections offer us an opportunity to discover more about our sales leads. We need to embrace them. They help us uncover and better understand our audiences’ intent. I am not referring to their business’s intent to address their priority needs. I am referring to their intent for objecting.
Sales Objection Tip: Objections range from the reasonable to emotionally charged. Fear-based objections are often emotionally charged. No matter the type of objection, there will always be a reason, an intention for objecting. Take the time to understand it and what satisfaction you can deliver to handle their objection effectively.
Objections are an integral part of today’s world of sales that we need to welcome and anticipate. When buying something, our decision to purchase will need to satisfy one or more emotional and business needs. When selling, we need to anticipate when an objection will occur and be mindful of the subtle forces impacting the decision making the process.
Think of an objection as having two faces.
I discuss the importance of timing in a video and supporting knowledge article, What are the four most important dates in a sales forecast. Both our own and our sales lead’ behaviour changes depending upon where we are in time. We segment that time into equal periods commencing from the start of the sales leads’ project and the end. It will not be a surprise we label the three-time segments, Beginning, Middle, and End.
In the beginning, those involved in a project will have high hopes. They will be more open to learning and discovery. The beginning is the best time for us to discover who is involved in the decision process to buy and understand their situation and priority needs.
Because the whole project timeline is ahead of them, most sales contacts will be more relaxed at the beginning of a project. In the middle, the realisation time is running out increases their stress on how to achieve a successful closure. At the end of the project, all those committed to the project are focussing on execution.
From a sales perspective, the beginning is not the time to relax. The beginning is the time to identify key contacts, build relationships, discover priority needs, and prime our contacts for the pressures ahead. Pressure will increase during the middle of the project and intensify during towards the end. If we are not having meaningful conversations during these periods in time, it will be more challenging to demonstrate we are relevant. Consequently, it is more likely we will be disqualified towards the end of the project.
Sales Objection Tip: For each type of sales objection, I provide my own experience as a sales objection tip when in time, I notice the objection type occurs.
To be effective in managing objections, we need to simplify how we discover the intent for objecting. I have categorised seven types of objections on a severity scale from one to seven.
This Guide will allow you to quickly construct a response to discover valuable intent insights you can use to move people and your sales lead forward.
Sales Objection Tip: A word of warning. Take time to understand the emotions driving the intent for objecting and deal with it. Fail to do this, the following on objection will always be based upon their initial objection response. The initial objection can often be irrational and emotionally charged.
To handle each of the following seven types of objection, first move the person objecting to a more rational state of mind. Doing so, you will become more effective in handling their objection. A rational mind helps our audience uncover and better understand their intent for objecting.
I could have called this category Common Objections. I prefer to call them reasonable because I do consider them reasonable. We often do not consider these objections. A reasonable question is part of the sales process. I have included this category because a reasonable question left unattended will become an objection.
Our sales contacts and their business wants to understand more about our solution. These are the What, How, and Why questions we must be prepared to answer. If these are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), our business needs to have developed a well-considered set of responses. For example, a Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ document. Our sales team can use them and refer our contacts onto when handling these requests.
Competitive, well-oiled sales teams have prepared the materials and tools to handle these reasonable objections.
Sales Objection Tip: We need to anticipate reasonable objections during the beginning of a project. As we discover more information and insights, be prepared to anticipate these objections. It will allow us to build trusted relationships when our contacts appreciate we are acting in their best interests.
If you anticipate an objection, bring the objection to your contacts’ attention first. Avoid waiting for them to raise it; otherwise; you will be forced onto your back foot handling the objection.
Our contacts need our support. Champions are an ideal example. They will be working on our behalf while we are not present. They need our support to field and handle these objections within their own business.
We need to help them prepare for and anticipate the internal questions and objections. Sometimes we will need to work with less experienced contact. Take them under our wing. We should consider coaching and mentoring our contact that helps build long-lasting trusted relationships. These relationships often pay dividends as they develop their careers, stepping into more senior roles.
As our sales proposition goes higher in the business, more experienced, senior decision makers and influencers will be involved. We must anticipate more objections. Our job is to make sure we have prepared and provided our contacts with access to objection handling information.
We also need to keep in mind the shift in power from the seller to the buyer. Today buyers have access to all most of the information they require to make a decision. If objections are circulating in the public domain, we should make our contacts aware of them. Doing so has a powerful immunisation effect. Think of it like having a flu injection. Contained in the serum is a small amount of the virus, allowing our body to protect itself from a full-on virus attack.
Providing information upfront is our anecdote to support our contacts. We are immunising them from the emotional fallout by anticipating the objection. An internal member of a team presenting our case is more credible and has a greater impact than if we were to present the case.
Sales Objection Tip: Prime your contacts, especially your champion so that they can prime others in their business. During the beginning, it will be more challenging to do this, given you will be building these relationships. Experience has guided me to prepare for handling support objections during the middle of the project. It is when pressure is mounting, and contacts are focusing on the project deadline.
Confirmation bias is when we search for information, feedback and confirmation that confirms our pre-existing belief.
Confirmation biased objections can be the result of:
“Previous decisions were based on information available at the time. They will have been the right decision at that time. I want to present some new insights allowing you to build upon those previous decisions”.
Sales Objection Tip: Avoid responding to a confirmation biased objection with a fear-arousing message to scare. It often leads to your message being blocked-out or denying it applies to them. Failing to provide specific, achievable steps on how to avoid the threat may force them into inaction. It can also marginalise you as they dig in insisting their view is correct.
We are at the decision point; closure is tantalisingly close we can nearly touch it. It will slip out of reach if we have not anticipated these objections and prepared for them. When raised, we must be clear what is the objector is asking of us.
Procurement and negotiation process is often played out delivering and handling crunch objections. Procurement teams will be looking to level the playing field. They want to be able to compare us with our competition easily. Our objective is to focus on creating an uneven playing field — one where we have the advantage over our competition. An advantage so well aligned to the buyers’ priority needs we become their rational choice.
I wrote a sales blog about the need to have an inspiring business purpose. What is the human cost of not having an inspiring business purpose? In it, I talk about why delivering our best commodity stuff strengthens your business purpose. In the diagram above, I call this The Value Parity. We must be confident we are the best at doing this stuff. We need to have Marketing’s and other functions support backing it up with evidence.
Our objective is to find our high ground that our audience cannot easily use to compare us with our competition. Finding the high ground means we focus on those opportunities where we are most competitive. Focusing on our Value Wedge enables us to achieve this outcome. Assuming we have done this, and a customer raises a point related to our competitors’ strength. Ask the question
“I thought your primary focus was…?”
These questions bring them back to their original focus. We are doing so prompt our audience to rationalise why they made the comparison. The objector will rationalise whether it is important to have that function or service. If it is and we find ourselves playing in our competitors’ area of strength. Our best strategy is to anticipate the objections and be well prepared to deal with them.
From the outset, we need to be preparing and strengthening our contact relationships for the crunch objections. Our objective is to make sure all those influencing and making the crunch decision are feeling comfortable. The words we use, how we handle the objections will have a profound effect on how our audience perceives us. Their perception will directly control whether they feel comfortable or not.
I remembered back to my own sales rookie days. I would passionately present my case while thinking their objection was not reasonable. We know now that was a mistake. All we did was polarise ourselves and made our audience feel uncomfortable.
Experience under our belts, asking the right questions is the best approach. These questions help to present a different perspective influencing our audience to reconsider their thinking.
We need to carefully manage our verbal and non-verbal communications. Mismanage these cues, and we erode trust. The outcome is binary; they either feel OK or Not OK with how well we handled their objection.
Sales Objection Tip: Prepare for these objections during the beginning and middle of the project once you fully understand their priority needs. I have found the unexpected crunch objections occur more often when senior influencers and buyers get involved later in the project. Work with your champion and trusted contacts to anticipate these objections and prepare for them. If you are dealing with a procurement team, be prepared to handle all forms of crunch objections.
When we hear “Can you extend the trial licence?”, or “We need more time to consider your proposal internally…” These and many others are stalling objections. We have been deprioritised. Our first task is to understand why.
We use these objections to decide whether this means they are a sales opportunity or a prospect. Ask searching questions that are clear and targeted — for example, a question like this.
“I’m curious. When we discussed this before you mentioned it cost you… What has changed?”
The mistake many salespeople make is to leave the sales opportunity where it is in the sales pipeline. More often, they change their confidence level from Commit to Pipeline. All this does is create inaccuracies in the sales forecast.
With experience, we realise stalling objections are important to maintaining an accurate sales forecast, instead of leaving them where they are at the current sales stage. Recognise there is an obstacle that has not been dealt with earlier in the sales process. Ratchet the deal back to an earlier qualification sales stage. Review the compelling event and set a realistic close date. We maintain our credibility being able to manage an accurate sales forecast.
I discuss this in more detail within the Sales Forecasting Guide For Sales Teams & Business Owners.
Sales Objection Tip: Handling a stalling objection during the beginning of a project must be considered a red flag. Confirm there is a budget and find out who has the authority to sign it off. Maybe the person objecting is sponsoring an alternative investment or working against you. Handling a stalling objection during the middle or the end of a project is a concern. Find out what has changed and adapted your approach accordingly.
With these objections, we need to use our empathy. Empathy is an overused term in our world of selling. It used as the answer to all our woes. Empathy is a powerful tool; however, it needs careful use, especially the case when dealing with irrational and emotional objectives.
I present an explanation of how experienced sales professionals have learnt to use their empathy. Dos and Donts using empathy, developing sales leads. When dealing with these objections, it is important we lead with compassion. Our empathy is a doorway through which we pass to understand their situation better. It is our perspective that allows us to navigate and manage these objections safely.
Our emotional empathy is stepping into their shoes. Our cognitive empathy is working out how we can help them. Our experience has taught us not to act on our cognitive empathy immediately. We need to use our perspective and lead with compassion. Once we have the full picture, we can return to our cognitive empathy, adapt and act on it based on our new perspective.
An irrational and emotional objection may be fear based. We need to focus on moving sales lead contacts to a more rational state of mind first. Then we can deal with their objection while sympathising with their situation.
We handle these objections in two steps.
They may want acknowledgement of their situation, efforts and achievements. Maybe they are looking to emotional support helping them through their objection. These objections take time managing to a successful outcome. Keep clarifying to confirm the sales opportunity is being accurately forecast.
Sales Objection Tip: These are challenging objections to handle. They are a threat to your deal if not handled well. Typically, they intend to off-set a fear or uneasy feeling they are experiencing. Consider the following:
1 – The number of these objections will increase after the mid-point in a project not managed well. Search out whether members of the project team have been forced in a direction they do not want to go.
2 – These objections can also occur when members of the team are unprepared or feel under pressure. After the mid-point in the project, these objections offer ideal opportunities to provide guidance and coaching. Take time. Understand their intent and the fear that is driving their emotional and irrational behaviour.
We have all come up against these objections in our sales careers. The contact does not want us. Logical reasoning often does not work. These contacts can be unprofessional and antagonistic. Fact is their actions are intended to block or remove us.
We have learnt through hard lessons, bumps and bruises to ask ourselves the following question.
“Is it worth it?”
Before asking this question, our experience has also taught us to discover the root cause for the objection. If the objection is unreasonable, using our empathy and compassion will not always work with these types of objections. Ultimately we have to respect our time and priority needs. If the objection is creating a poor return on our time, we must deprioritise or disqualify the sales lead.
Here is one persuasive technique to influence their behaviour I recommend considering. When you ask someone to do you a favour, that person will be more likely to like you. It sounds illogical, but it works!
Why? Because people are strongly motivated to change their attitudes in ways that are consistent with their behaviour. It slows your opponent to reflect on why they are opposed to you and soften their objection. We are generally reluctant to do this with objectionable people. Pause for a moment – the worse they will do nothing; you have all to gain!
Sales Objection Tip: Check the status and authority of the person raising this type of objection. Take advice from your champion and the most senior person leading the project. Requalify the sales lead and focus on understanding what the reason is. Consider when they object, could their objection timing provide further insight?
If the person objecting is in a position of authority, this sales lead may not be a good investment of your time. It is important we manage our emotions to remain objective and detached.
Take some time to discover their interests and passions. They may both love stamp collecting, riding motorbikes, ballet. Whatever it is, try and close that emotional gap that separates you both.
During our sales training sessions, I deal with sharpening our persuasion skills. Here is a list of nine persuasion skills from a more extensive list we work through during our training courses that I recommend you sharpen. Keep visiting our Knowledge Hub. We are continually adding new Knowledge Articles and videos discussing how to strengthen persuasion and other skills.
This Guide is the result of a simple question. Could I reduce the unlimited number of sales objections we have to manage into a short list of seven? Handling any of these seven intent based objections we need to ask ourselves.
“How can I help my audience decide whether to proceed with our proposal or not?”
Objections as we have seen span from the reasonable to the irrational. To be effective handling and resolving an objection, we need to understand their intent for raising it. We then must have a good strategy for handling it.
Objection handling is a critical skill we must master if we are to be successful in sales. We have enjoyed preparing this Guide. We hope this Guide will become a valuable resource to successful deal with every type of sales objections ahead of you.