Sales Objections: Opportunity or a Death Knell?


Share on LinkedIn

It’s often been said that salespeople should welcome sales objections because they present an understanding of what the client is concerned about, and along with them, an opportunity to allay those concerns.

But in today’s tough selling environment, this logic doesn’t always work. In fact, today’s buyers are in an increasingly powerful position, resulting from both a general oversupply of products and services and highly effective procurement strategies and tactics. Voicing concerns is often little more than a statement of why the client isn’t going to be engaging you.

How then do you tell the difference between a legitimate sales objection and a death knell? And if you do still have an opportunity, what objection management tactics should be employed that will work to your best advantage?

It’s all about decision criteria

First, let’s look at the subject of decision (or buying) criteria to understand the degree to which a client’s concerns are indications of real threats to your success in an account. The most successful rainmakers understand that whoever controls client buying criteria at the time of a final decision wins the engagement. They know that if they can’t meet those criteria better than anyone else, or they can’t effectively influence a change in buyer preferences to meet their unique capabilities, they’re not going to win the opportunity. That’s a timeless truth about sales.

One best practice is to validate, on an ongoing basis, what the client’s buying criteria are. Fees? Firm size and brand? Proven expertise in a specific area? It could be any or all of those, or an entirely different set of considerations. How do you find out? Ask them! In fact, you’ll need to ask different stakeholders multiple times. A simple, “Would you share with me your decision criteria, in order of importance?” will usually get the job done. By the way, any discrepancies between what two people say usually indicates misalignment of purpose or even a political turf war.

Once you understand the degree to which you can meet your client’s most critical requirements, you’ll understand your competitive position in the account. For that reason, it’s important to check regularly during their buying cycle. If their requirements change in priority or new requirements suddenly appear, it likely signals that a competitor is gaining mindshare. You need ongoing confirmation that the client’s prioritized criteria align with your capabilities to know you are making forward progress toward being selected.

Once you understand your competitive position in the account, when objections are raised you’ll know whether they are for the legitimate purposes of clarification and negotiation, or an indication that your prospects of landing the account are doomed.

A process for managing objections

Once you know your service offering is aligned well with customer requirements, it’s worth the time and effort to manage those inevitable objections. Over the years, ES Research has observed how top sales, account and business development executives handle objections. When looking at individual and team approaches, we have come to understand that there is a common set of steps that, when followed, will yield the best possible results.

  1. First, restate the objection. “So, you’re concerned that we may not have enough people with experience in group benefits to properly advise you. Is that correct?” This shows the person that you’ve been listening and understand what their issue is.
  2. Explore what the effect is on that person/company. “What impact will this have on your ability to complete the project in time?” This shows a willingness to listen, understand, and empathize.
  3. Decide whether to address the concern now or defer it. If you are comfortable responding, explain why the concern is unfounded or how it will be mitigated.
  4. Get closure on that objection. “Are you completely comfortable with that explanation?”
  5. “Are there any other concerns or issues you have at this time?” If there are, cycle back to the first step.

The key: clear, concise, and compelling messages

Here’s another best practice: Collect the most common client objections from your business development team. In a two-hour face-to-face or phone session, work through them all, formulating clear, concise, and compelling responses for each objection.

There is significant benefit in anticipating what objections may be raised by your clients and having taken the time to prepare for them in advance. Consider, as an example, the rehearsal and preparation that goes into a media event, such as a press conference. Questions of every sort, friendly and hostile, are anticipated and measured, effective responses are delivered. Nothing is left to chance.

A strategic view of buyer preferences, decision criteria, and the objection management process can make the difference between success and failure in our increasingly competitive business environment.

This article was commissioned by Minnesota Life (an ESR client) and was published in a newsletter to their group life insurance producer community several months ago.

Photo credit: Anton Balazh

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Stein
Dave specializes in helping his clients win critical B2B sales opportunities as well as helping them hire the best sales talent.Dave is co-author of Beyond the Sales Process. He wrote the best-selling How Winners Sell in 2004.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here