In sales, customer objections are a fact of life. But running into the same objections time and time again can make selling feel more like Groundhog Day, especially when you know they’re coming!
Maybe you have one of the more expensive solutions on the market and have to routinely defend your pricing. Perhaps you work for a boutique firm or startup and constantly deal with questions about your size, youth, or perceived lack of experience. Or maybe you’re constantly coming up against the same competitor in your sales cycles and have to deal with non-stop questions around feature comparisons and landmines that have been set for you.
The good news is, there’s a powerful objection-handling tactic that can not only help you overcome these barriers to winning more business but help you side-step them altogether. It’s called inoculation.
What is Inoculation?
Inoculation theory is a concept that was first developed by social psychologist William J. McGuire in 1961. His goal was to explain how to keep existing attitudes and beliefs consistent in the face of attempts to change them. In practice, the theory works in precisely the same way as vaccines do to protect us against the ill effects of certain diseases. By exposing the body to a weaker form of the disease, we train our immune system to recognize and attack the real thing should it appear in the future. In the same way, if our goal is to circumvent the harmful effects of an objection we know is highly likely to surface, we would be well-served to proactively raise and address it to build our customer’s immunity to it should it surface later or should they hear it from another source.
Here are three powerful ways to use inoculation in your sales motion.
1. Inoculating Against Objections in your Sales Cycle
If you know with 80-90 percent certainty that a customer objection is likely to surface under a given set of circumstances during your sales cycle, simply raise and address it in advance. For example:
Objection: you have one of the more expensive solutions on the market
“As I learn more about your needs and craft a pricing proposal, I wanted to mention that we are not the lowest-cost provider out there. We might even be the first- or second-most expensive. While our price is higher than most, our mission is to deliver a high-touch, comprehensive solution that consistently exceeds our customer’s expectations. That’s why we have a 96 percent customer retention rate.”
Objection: you work for a boutique firm or startup which might be perceived as risky
“While we’re not the biggest player in our space, our customers tell us that they love working with us because of how often we release product updates, how much input they have into our roadmap, and the personal attention they get from our executives and support team.”
Objection: a competitor who always touts how feature-rich their solution is compared to yours
“You mentioned you were also looking at a solution from Company ABC. We see them in our deals from time to time and they have a very feature-rich solution. But many of the customers who evaluated both solutions and ultimately went with us tell us it was because they realized they wouldn’t end up using most of those features and preferred the simplicity and overall lower cost of our product.”
Note: since many of these objections may involve preemptively addressing competitive threats, check out my post on how to talk about your competition.
2. Using Inoculation in Your Marketing Materials
Another great way of circumventing objections before they surface is by simply incorporating them into your website or marketing materials. For example, a simple FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on your pricing page can help explain the difference between the various packages you offer and the type of customer that would be a better fit for one versus another. Many vendors also provide competitive feature comparisons on their websites to help prospective buyers understand the differences between their solutions and approaches and others in the market. While this is often self-serving (it’s still marketing after all) it can circumvent objections and plant competitive landmines in the mind of the customer.
One of the more clever implementations of inoculation marketing is how Salesforce puts an ROI calculator on its Dreamforce registration page. Dreamforce (now consistently the largest software tech conference in the world) attracts participants from all ranks within their audience’s organizations. And since the week-long event (often described as a cross between a conference and a rock concert) carries a substantial registration fee, attendees often get objections from within their own companies about the value of their participation. To circumvent these objections, Salesforce includes a sophisticated ROI calculator on the event registration site. This allows employees to showcase the value of the experience to their internal stakeholders (usually in the form of free consulting, knowledge application, and training acquired at the event) when the price tag is presented.
3. Inoculation During Recruiting
As a leader, one of the most helpful and overlooked opportunities to use inoculation is during your recruiting efforts. After all, just like your products and services, working for your company comes with certain responsibilities and expectations and you want to make sure you address any perceived risks and issues of cultural fit as early as possible.
The reality is, sales is a tough gig and it’s easy for salespeople in fast-paced operations to become discouraged when they don’t see immediate success in a new role. Back at Salesforce, when we started to see the effects of the undue stress and pressure some of our new reps were putting on themselves during the first few months of their tenure (including some untimely resignations), we started to inoculate against it in the interview process. “The first two to three months of this role are going to be tough!” I would say. “You may even think about quitting. But trust me, all of the top-performing reps you see here played through that same pain. It’s totally normal, and if you stick with it and keep learning, you’ll be in great shape!” And it worked! The straight-talk went far in terms of enticing new recruits, and when they hit that tough spot, they knew redemption lay on the other side and persevered. We had successfully inoculated them.
Warnings and Caution!
There are two important things to keep in mind before you start injecting these tactics into your sales and marketing motions!
1. Proactively raising objections can be risky: these tactics can be very powerful but should only be used in instances where you believe the objection is going to come up anyways 80-90 percent of the time. For example, if your typical customers aren’t especially sensitive to the cost of your solution or the size and longevity of your company, raising these objections proactively may put undo attention on them.
2. It needs to be done at the right time: taking a pain reliever two days before or after you anticipate having a headache is a waste. In the same way, customers may only be sensitive to specific objections at certain points in the sales cycle. For example, early on in the cycle when customers are evaluating a host of potential solutions based on needs and fit, they may be more concerned about the size and capabilities of your company over price. However, later in the sales cycle when poor-fit vendors have already been weeded out the priority of these objections may reverse. Make sure you’re invoking your inoculation statements at the point in your sales cycle where your customer is likely to be most sensitive to them.
Dealing with objections in your sales cycles is never fun, but by proactively raising and addressing them at the right time, clever salespeople can significantly diminish their deal-stopping power with a bit of science!
Related video: How to Defend Against the Same Recurring Objections
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