“Help me understand how to handle customer sales objections…”
“My team needs to learn how to handle objections…”
“We get lots of sales objections in our demos and need to manage them better…”
Many sales and presales training programs discuss ways to overcome objections, and managers frequently request skills training for their teams. There are numerous books, blog posts and articles on the subject, including the use of some rather intriguing acronyms (e.g., ARC, LAER, FFF, LAARC, and ECIRR).
But, why do prospects raise objections? Is it possible that vendors are working to address the wrong problem? Is it possible that objections are a symptom of deeper problems? Perhaps sales objections shouldn’t come up in the first place, in a well-executed sales process!
Let’s explore some common sales objections, their causes and some solutions:
“Do you have a ‘lite’ version of your software?” or “We don’t need the Cadillac version; we just want the Chevy…”
This is an example of “Buying It Back”. The prospect feels the product has more functionality than they need, and they don’t want to pay for the extra capabilities they don’t expect to use. This is an indication that too many features and functions were presented in the demo, many more than the Specific Capabilities the prospect actually needs.
Solution: Improve demo and discovery skills. Uncover and understand which Specific Capabilities your prospect needs and wants during discovery and only present those in your demo. Use Biased Questions to introduce capabilities that you think may be of interest or are competitively differentiating to avoid presenting features that won’t be appreciated.
“Your product looks too complicated for most of our users, so we only want a couple of licenses for a few experts to use…”
The demo showed too many options and too many clicks overall. It likely had numerous “if” and “or” choices showing an enormous range of possibilities, and presented pathways in too much detail. It made simple tasks look much more complicated than they needed to be.
Solution: Improve demo skills. Just “Do It”: Show the shortest path to complete any task. Use the fewest number of clicks or steps to get that task done. Let your prospect ask for more detail if interested and Peel Back the Layers in accord with their depth and level of interest.
“We didn’t see what we were looking for in the demo…”
Many traditional demos focus on what the vendor wants to show, and in the order that the vendor finds most comfortable. These demos often present as many features as the time allows, with special emphasis given to the vendor’s “competitive differentiators”. The result is that vendors run out of time to cover prospect-specific requirements.
A second reason for this objection is misalignment between what is demonstrated and prospect job titles. When vendors present demos of detailed staff-level workflows to managers and executives (who will never run those workflows), they often neglect showing the reports and dashboards desired by management to run their businesses. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard vendors say, “And we’ve got dozens of canned reports available (which can be configured), …” but never showed any of the reports or dashboards!
Another cause is spending too much time in the demo with “Setup Mode”. Far too many traditional demos consume time showing how to set things up in the system, how you can create and configure forms, reports, workflows, preferences, and more. Generally, the only people interested in these capabilities are the system administrators.
I once watched a 90-minute demo where the first 40 minutes were dedicated entirely to Setup Mode items. Stunningly, the presenter then said, “Of course, you won’t have to do any of this because we take care of all of it during implementation…” Incomprehensible!
Solution: Improve demo and discovery skills. Execute discovery and then align your demos with what you’ve learned in discovery. Present the most important deliverables and capabilities early, and organize your demo on a job-title-by-job-title basis, focusing on what each job title wants to see. Start with the highest-ranking people, complete their segment, then move “downstream” (e.g., executives first, then middle managers, then staff members, then system admins).
An additional note: It is incredibly insulting to a prospect for them to invest time in a discovery conversation and then to have that information ignored in the subsequent demo!
“You don’t understand our business…”
You’ll hear this objection when the demo environment or demo data is out of alignment, when discovery was superficial, or both!
I’ve seen vendors present demos that showed manufacturing data and terminology to prospects in finance and vice versa. The gap is too large between these industries for a demo to be believable for these prospects.
Solution: Improve the demo environment and associated demo skills. This may require multiple demo environments, with demo data and deliverables tuned for each vertical. Tools like Saleo provide solutions, enabling sales and presales teams to work from a single demo environment while presenting the appropriate data, labels, graphs, images, and terminology for each target vertical.
Next, what do I mean by “discovery was superficial”? Vendors selling into certain verticals need “situational fluency,” meaning the vendors need to understand their prospects’ typical business challenges, environment, practices, and terms. This can be a major problem for vendor new hires in sales, presales, and customer success. I once saw a vendor demo to an auto parts company where the vendor was unfamiliar with “Just-in-Time” manufacturing and Kanban: They were literally shown the door!
Solution: Improve discovery skills. In this case, it means learning about the specific target industry. Some of this (hopefully!) can be provided during onboarding, and the balance through reading, research, and external courses or resources. Once this knowledge is in place, you can then develop the industry-specific discovery questions that exhibits your understanding of your prospects’ business and enable discovery to be executed satisfactorily.
A second approach is to organize sales teams that include at least one person who is already situationally fluent. This person can then help bring others up to speed and provide ongoing mentoring.
Note that the “both” case is particularly awful: When the demo data doesn’t resonate and the selling team is clueless about the specific vertical. I once heard a prospect mutter, “We’ll never buy from them, that’s for sure…!”
“I’m not comfortable with you as a vendor…”
What’s going here? In spite of a detailed corporate overview presentation that included logos from numerous current customers, the prospect still doesn’t perceive the vendor as viable. Why? It is likely the prospect is concerned about one or more areas of risk: Implementation, support, product roadmap, previous experience, or similar. It is possible the prospect was a “Burn Victim” of a failed implementation or a project that never achieved the desired ROI.
Solution: Improve discovery skills. These concerns should be surfaced and addressed during discovery. “Have you tried to address this before?” is a simple question that could uncover these concerns.
A Transition Vision discussion is another way to avoid this objection. This dialogue walks the prospect through the implementation process and identifies one or more Value Realization Events to help convince the prospect that you really have their success in mind (and not simply getting the PO and signed license agreement!).
“Let’s discuss how we can help you move from your current situation to ‘Go Live’ and then all the way to your first significant ROI events...”
Having this conversation during discovery will uncover any major issues that can be addressed. And if you find that there are issues that can’t be addressed satisfactorily, then you’ll know that this sales opportunity is not going to be successful, enabling you to avoid investing additional energy and time.
“While your product does cover about 80% of our requirements, it is missing a few critical capabilities…”
Once again, discovery was likely insufficient in uncovering and understanding prospect “KO” requirements vs needs and wants.
Solution: Improve discovery skills. During discovery, if your prospect identifies capabilities that you lack, you need to ask about use and importance: “How often would you use this? How important is it? Who would use it?” and similar, related questions. The answers will let you know whether your offering is a sufficiently good match or not, well before you get to the demo stage…!
In sales, if you are going to fail, fail fast, fail early, and fail cheaply!
“Your product looks good, but we feel we can continue to live with the current situation…”
This opportunity just became a No Decision outcome: The prospect decided that they can stay with the status quo. The opportunities just joined the other 45% of all deals forecasted to close this quarter, becoming a No Decision result.
Solution: Improve demo and discovery skills. Use Great Demo! Situation Slides to assess the likelihood of opportunities progressing to purchase decisions vs No Decision outcomes. There are typically three reasons why sales opportunities end in No Decision:
- "We can live with the current process. We don't like it, but we can live with it!"
This is a case of the lack of a Critical Business Issue: The prospect agrees that there is a problem, but solving it is not sufficiently compelling for them to invest tangible resources to address it. They haven’t attached the problem to a quarterly, annual, or project-based goal or objective that is at risk. They are willing to live with “the hell that they know” rather than embrace change.
Solution: Improve discovery skills. In discovery, asking “why” questions can help uncover whether a Critical Business Issue is present or not. Another example is to ask, “Tell me, how are you measured? How do you determine that you’ve been a success, at the end of the year?” The answer is often in the form of a Critical Business Issue.
2. “We don’t see enough value…”
Insufficient perception of value on the part of the prospect is a classic sales objection that contributes to No Decision outcomes. Without clear and tangible value information, prospects have difficulty generating their business cases and selling internally.
Solution: Improve discovery and demo skills. First, prospect value information needs to be uncovered and explored during discovery. Workflow Analysis is specifically designed to identify the value elements (Deltas): Tangible expressions of value in terms of time, people or money. These are strongest when they come from the prospect’s own lips. Vendors’ numbers are substantially less believable, from the prospect’s perspective! Sufficiently large Deltas become key drivers in pursuing a solution and supporting the prospect’s internal business case.
Once uncovered, communicate the business value of making the change during your demos. When you present key screens or deliverables, remember to tie the value – the Delta – to those screens
3. “We’re not in a hurry…” or “We need it yesterday!”
In the first example, there is likely no Critical Date or Critical Event that drives the prospect’s need to implement a solution. Interestingly, this often means that the prospect understands that they aren’t addressing their Critical Business Issue, and they understand that they aren’t enjoying the value expected from making the change. They simply don’t have sufficient pressure to move forward with a solution: They “kick the can” down the road repeatedly, yielding another and often recurring version of a No Decision result. You’ll see forecasted deals “roll over” quarter after quarter, suffering this fate!
Strangely, the “We need it yesterday!” claim often produces a similar No Decision outcome. If they really “needed it yesterday”, then why hadn’t they implemented a solution? Again, a lack of a Critical Date or Critical Event is the culprit: There is no date and accompanying reason that drives the need for a solution to be adopted in a specific timeframe.
Solution: Improve discovery skills. Ask the appropriate timing questions in your discovery conversations with your prospects. “When do you need a solution in place – and what is driving that timing?”
The absence of any one of the these three Situation Slide elements will dramatically increase the probability of a No Decision result.
“Your product is way too expensive for us (but thanks for the education) …”
In the early stages of a buyer’s journey, buyers need to understand some price basics. Generally speaking, is the vendor’s price within the prospect’s range? The absence of reasonable price information can lead to some serious and potentially painful disconnects later in the sales and buying processes.
Many vendors refuse to offer specific prices early in the engagement, which is understandable. Vendors may need more demographic information on the expected number of users or other licensing parameters prior to providing a quote to the prospect.
However, prospects frequently need budgetary pricing information for longer-term planning purposes, or similar pricing datapoints if they are in an active buying process. If they find out that the price is way beyond their means, they would likely refocus their process on more affordable solutions.
Imagine how you would feel, as a prospect, if you invested time in conversations with a BDR and salesperson, an overview demo, a deep dive demo, and a workshop or POC – only to learn that the price was far too much for your organization!
Solution: Improve discovery skills. General price ranges should be discussed early in the process (e.g., during discovery). Vendors are not required to give specific pricing until they have collected the necessary discovery information, but the prospect needs to know whether the solution is within financial possibility for them.
An additional subtlety to contemplate is that there is a key difference between a price objection and requesting a discount. A price objection is tied to a prospect’s perception of insufficient value or ROI: They don’t see a good business case for the expenditure.
Requesting a discount, on the other hand, simply means that the prospect wants to get the best price possible. They are comfortable with the value equation and expected ROI; they’d just like to get a deal! If you do choose to offer a discount, remember to ask for something tangible in return.
In all the above examples, these sales objections could have been avoided by investing in the selling team’s skills and knowledge. Most objections that arise late in the sales process, as a result of incomplete discovery and traditional demo practices. Improving discovery skills, in particular, is clearly the best place to begin. Discovery impacts everything that takes place in the sales funnel, from the first contact onwards.
What sales objections do you hear from your prospects today?
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Hi Peter: excellent article. I agree with many of your points, and I particularly agree with your premise, “Perhaps sales objections shouldn’t come up in the first place, in a well-executed sales process!” Therein lies the rub: not every sales process qualifies as ‘well executed.’ Most of mine were accompanied by at least a bump in the road. Still, the overarching insight I gleaned from your article is that by thoughtfully anticipating issues before a demo begins, ‘objections’ can be squashed before becoming objections. In my case, that’s a skill I could only develop from conducting hundreds of demos. My early demos were admittedly pretty awful. By the time I reached the end of your article, I seriously wondered whether you were in the demo rooms where I worked across the US. Every issue on your list hit home.
I can’t attest to ever being ‘at the top of my game’ demo-wise as I find I am always learning new approaches. The most compelling demo I ever witnessed was from a client’s ‘top sales producer.’ The purpose of my client project was to learn from top producer’s demo approach and document my findings so they could be shared within the US and Canadian sales organization. Her strategy was one I never attempted before. The top producer began her demo by putting herself at the same level of software competency as her prospect, and explaining that the demo process would involve her exploring the navigation along with the prospect, according to what the prospect wanted to see or know. In this way, she gained immediate rapport, and shattered any possibility of ‘it’s too complicated!’ But it takes a supremely confident salesperson to pull that off, and one who can project a genuine learning vibe to the prospect, and not ‘I’m dumbing myself down for you,’ which would be an immediate trust breaker.
My only beef with your article is your reference to ‘no decision’ – a mislabeling for what is much more commonly ‘no purchase.’ I spent many years selling custom and licensed application software, and many years buying applications, as well. I cannot recall one instance where my prospect really, truly, couldn’t decide. But there were plenty of times they didn’t purchase anything. And that sure as heck resulted from a decision – not indecision. Same for the buying side. I’ve never worked on a procurement where the buying team simply couldn’t decide what to do. I emphasize this distinction for my clients, because the ‘no decision’ point of view obscures the fact that customers that don’t purchase are almost always making a clear and deliberate choice. It is the salesperson’s job, then, to recognize ‘no purchase’ as a viable buyer decision, and orient their sales discussions accordingly.
Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. I use eh term “No Decision” as it appears to be relatively broadly used for sales opportunities that you don’t’ win, you don’t lose to a competitor; the prospect decides (as you point out) to stay as they are. “Status quo” could be another term for the same.
Regarding demos, you might want to explore the excellent ideas in the book, “Great Demo!” (I know the author):
Another terrific source is “Doing Discovery”: