The Ultimate Guide for Mastering Objections
In Sell The Way You Buy I talk about how uncovering the intent behind your customer’s objection is the critical first step to properly address it. But that doesn’t mean that each type of objection is completely unique. Most objections fall into one of the five intent categories shown below, ranging from the logical and reasonable to the emotionally charged and antagonistic.
Keeping intent top of mind when responding to objections is important because it will help you narrow down the list of tactics to those best suited to the task—similar to pairing the right type of wine with your meal.
For example, suppose you call a customer and they say, “Now’s not a good time, call me back next month.” If this is the first time you’re calling that customer, you might assume their intent is to delay you. If, however, this is the fifth time you’ve called them and they keep brushing you off, their intent may be to perpetually avoid and perhaps derail you.
The pairing menu of intent to response type is shown here.
Before proceeding, keep in mind that the way in which words are spoken can provide a huge clue as to the underlying intent. For example, take the objection “Your solution would never work here.” This might be stated by a customer who loves your product or service but fears her organization isn’t forward-thinking enough to buy it. Tonal emphasis on the word “here” might place the objection on the logical side of the spectrum. Alternatively, it might be stated by a customer who wants to get off the phone with you. Tonal emphasis on the word “never” (when combined with stern body language) might cast the objection into the derailing category.
Level 1 Intent: Understand
The intent of these objections is typically to help the customer (hopefully a champion) better understand your solution so they can support the decision for it in their organization. While the substance of the objection still needs to be respected, the tone of the interaction is logical, and in most instances, you and your customer are both sitting on the same side of the table, working collaboratively to bring your solution to fruition. In this mode, the intent isn’t to challenge your solution or approach. Rather, to ensure your customer has the answers and angles covered so they can justify and defend the investment in your solution in their own organization.
- how long does it typically take to roll out your solution?
- how have customers like us been successful using it? Or why have they failed?
- help me understand how your solution would solve the business problem we have?
The best way to help someone through their effort to understand is simply to support them. No head games or emotional agenda here. However, it’s also important to help them understand, anticipate and prepare for the questions and objections they are likely to get as the sales process progresses. As the business case for your solution escalates up the approval chain, more and more questions are bound to arise. You want to ensure your customer feels supported and has all the information they need to ensure the process is as frictionless as possible (I often refer to this as preparing them for the puppy conversation).
Note: don’t assume your champion knows their internal process or has been through it before! If they’re unsure, be willing to offer perspectives on how the process has worked with other customers.
Level 2 Intent: Decide
The intent of these objections are to help a customer decide whether or not to proceed with your solution. This may involve validating tactical or strategic limitations or conducting a comparative evaluation of another solution. This is often where the default or “do nothing” option is considered. With each response, your customer either moves closer to or further away from your solution. While objections in this category have the potential to be more emotionally charged, they still tend to fall on the logical side of the spectrum.
- do you offer monthly billing terms?
- is your solution available in other languages?
- what’s the typical ROI payback of your solution?
The key to addressing this type of objection is understanding that the stakes are higher than a level 1 objection and that your response could result in the customer making the decision to either support or abandon your solution. That’s why it’s important to not only answer the question but consider how you’re positioning your solution in the most favorable and compelling light. This is particularly important when competitive solutions are in the mix or the customer may have a strong disposition to continuing with the status quo.
For example, if the customer asks about supporting languages you don’t currently offer, you might share the languages the application is currently available in, position how your solution has been architected to support additional languages, and probe deeper about their specific language requirements (to determine if it’s a deal-breaker). If your customer asks about the typical ROI of your solution, you can position the return that some of your best customers see and use it as an opportunity to understand if your buyer possesses some of those same characteristics.
But be careful! Don’t gravitate too far into either the offensive or defensive modes. The more polarizing you are the more uncomfortable you’re going to make your customer feel. And once they feel uncomfortable with you, it doesn’t matter how valid your argument is. Make sure you always land on the side of making the customer feel Ok with your position.
Level 3 Intent: Delay
These objections are the business equivalent of the snooze button. They are simply excuses vocalized with the intention to stall your sales process, avoid a decision, or generate confusion. In the personal realm, they might sound like, “I’ll start my diet after the holidays” and “I know I should break up with him/her but I want to give it one more chance”. In the business world, they might sound like some of the examples below.
- call me back next month
- I think we need to get a few more quotes before we make a decision
- I think we should investigate the root cause of the problem before we look at vendors
Response: Qualify / Remind
Because the goal of these objections is to stall or avoid your sales cycle, the question you need to ask yourself is “does it make sense to even continue with the customer?”. That’s why your response to a delay objection should be either to further re-qualify the customer, to see if they’re still a good fit, or if they are, remind the customer of the cost of delaying. For example, if the customer says “call me back next month”, you can respond with [qualify], “I’d be happy to, but I want to make sure I’m respecting your time and not bothering you when I do. Can I give you a sense of what we would discuss next month and then you can decide whether or not you want me to call you back?”. If your customer says “I think we’re going to stick with what we’ve been doing for now”, you can respond with, [remind] “I’m curious…when we chatted earlier you estimated that your current process was costing your organization about $5000/month in lost productivity. Did something change? Is the problem not big or important enough to solve at this time?“.
Level 4 Intent: Satisfy
These types of objections are my favorite because they are some of the most challenging, under-recognized, and pervasive in both our business and personal interactions. As a customer, if you’ve ever asked to speak to someone’s manager (think, on a call with your phone company or after a poor restaurant experience) you’ve initiated a satisfaction-based objection. These are objections raised with the intent of offsetting an uneasy feeling a customer has about a condition or situation. They are rarely about money or even a tangible outcome, yet they can be a formidable threat to your deal because they are often emotionally charged. As proof, check out this amazing article describing how the sale of a $3 million brownstone in New York’s Greenwich Village almost fell apart because of a dispute over an old washing machine.
- I spoke to my friend at Customer B and they told me they’re paying 30% less than you’re quoting me!
- Why am I paying for your SaaS solution during the planning and implementation phase when we’re not even using it?
- We think your solution is great but our leadership team is concerned about doing business with a start-up (assuming you are a small start-up and your competition is an established vendor with a long track record of stability).
The most important ingredient in addressing a satisfaction-based objection is empathy. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and recognize that the objection is about more than just money. It’s about addressing a feeling! What this means is that you need to remedy the situation by not only providing a commercially viable outcome (i.e. price, value, business justification) but also, emotional support. For example, if your buyer is having a hard time getting past the fact that another customer seemingly got a better deal than they did, help satisfy the buyer by creating transparency around your dealings. Share insights with your buyer around how the other customer signed up for a longer-term, purchased more licenses, or offered to appear on stage at your conference in exchange for the price concession. If your buyer is concerned about the perceived risk of doing business with a start-up, acknowledge their concern, and share stories of other similar customers who not only received tons of value from your solution but love the idea of working with a start-up because of your agility and white-glove customer service!
For more insights into how to respond to a satisfaction-based objection. Check out this helpful video.
Level 5 Intent: Derail
These types of objections tend to surface when someone simply doesn’t want to move forward with your product or solution and is looking to undermine your opportunity for sales success. They are designed to damage your business case, reputation, or both. Unfortunately, derailing objections are often highly emotionally charged and as such, tend to be more immune to logical resolution There’s no better example of this than in the middle of Alec Baldwin’s famous speech (language warning here!) in Glen Garry Glen Ross where he successfully derails the arguments of the salesmen challenging his position. While his response is arguably juvenile and highly antagonistic, it is nonetheless successful at achieving its purpose of shutting the objector down.
- I heard your last project went wildly over budget and ended up bankrupting the customer
- Your solution will never work here because…
- We tried rolling out a similar solution before and it was a huge failure
Overcoming a derailing objection is not impossible. However, it may be complex, time-consuming, and almost always requires a well thought-out and executed strategy or response. But before you consider overcoming it, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “is it worth it?”. You might be dealing with a high-power, high-authority, or singular decision-maker with a derailing mindset. You may also feel like there’s little chance of you being able to sufficiently change that customer’s point of view to support a sale (or at least in a reasonable amount of time). If that’s the case, one option is to take the cue and gracefully bow out before proceeding any further and wasting precious cycles. If, however, the sentiment is unreasonable or localized to a particular individual (or small set of people), you may wish to proceed and attempt to compartmentalize and either address or circumvent the objection.
The first step is doing your best to understand the root cause of the objection. Although this may not be possible in all cases, it will greatly help your attempts to overcome it. For example, you might learn that the blocking individual has a personal senior level relationship with another vendor. Or you might learn that the first time the organization attempted to deploy a similar solution it failed because they didn’t have an internal executive sponsor. If you feel the objection is unreasonable or no longer valid based on your understanding of the current environment, point that out, being sure to provide the requisite empathy and emotional support so you don’t come off looking like a jerk.
If for some reason the roadblock cannot be overcome, you might try to circumvent it. For example, if the objector has dug their heels in or cannot be convinced for whatever reason, you may try to leverage your familiarity with the customer’s org chart to enlist the support of other friendly stakeholders to marginalize the objector from within.
The ability to identify and overcome objections is critical to sales success. Unfortunately, when it comes to this highly cerebral subject matter, what gets vocalized only represents a fraction (if any) of the underlying concern. In order to resolve the objection to the customer’s satisfaction, you need to understand both the intent of the objection and the best strategy for addressing it. I hope this guide was helpful to you!
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Great column – this is advice we can use TODAY!
Positive Positioning is really helpful, thanks a lot for sharing this. Nice job.